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Toyota still in crisis one year after recalls

TOKYO, Nov 25 – The world\’s top automaker Toyota remains in "crisis" mode a year after being hit by the first wave of more than 12 million recalls, a report said Thursday.

Shinichi Sasaki, the board member at the car giant responsible for quality, told the Financial Times: "I don\’t think the crisis is over. If we step down the level of our efforts at this point in time, it may mean we are sowing the seeds of crisis once again."

The automaker, which was heavily criticised for its slow response to the crisis, was actively seeking foreign or female members for its all-male board as it looks to broaden its corporate culture, Sasaki said.

He added that Toyota was the world\’s largest automaker because of recent problems at General Motors and would not "despair" at losing the title.

The firm is working to rebuild an image plagued by safety recalls in the past year over unintended acceleration, engine, steering and brake problems. The recalls affected more than 12 million vehicles in total.

The crisis prompted US congressional investigations as Toyota was hit with a record 16.4 million dollar fine to settle claims it had hidden accelerator pedal defects blamed for dozens of deaths. It still faces lawsuits in the US.

Last month Toyota announced a global safety recall of about 1.5 million vehicles to fix a brake fluid leak that it warned could gradually diminish braking performance.

Analysts say Toyota has become more aggressive in catching possible defects as part of a campaign to improve its consumer image, but warn that continued frequent recalls continue to damage its branding as a quality carmaker.

Since the crisis Toyota has appointed regional quality control officers, introduced measures to respond more quickly to reports of vehicle problems and has expanded training.

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Last week it unveiled plans to launch 11 new hybrid models by the end of 2012 as the race to build more environmentally friendly vehicles heats up.

The planned vehicles, consisting of all-new and redesigned models, will expand Toyota\’s hybrid-engine range — which runs on gasoline and electricity — at a time when rivals such as Nissan are developing all-electric vehicles.

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