Toyota apologises for handling of safety issues

Toyota’s president of US operations apologised for the company’s handling of safety issues on Tuesday while insisting that electronic problems did not contribute to sudden acceleration of its cars.


Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood argued that such a possibility could not be ruled out. Toyota’s James Lentz and LaHood presented differing views in prepared testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s investigative panel, the first of three congressional panels holding hearings on Toyota’s problems.

Lentz apologised for the company’s slow handling of problems in its vehicles, saying it took too long to confront the issue. “We have not lived up to the high standards our customers and the public have come to expect from Toyota,” he said.

Lentz, certain to face hostile questioning from politicians, said that Toyota had poor communications within the company, with government regulators and with its customers.

At the same time, he stuck to Toyota’s insistence that stuck gas pedals were caused by one of two problems – misplaced floor mats and sticking accelerator pedals.

“We are confident that no problems exist with the electric throttle control system in our vehicles,” he said.

He cited “fail-safe mechanisms” in the cars were designed to shut off or reduce engine power “in the event of a system failure.”

But LaHood, also to testify on Tuesday, said in his prepared testimony that the government’s investigation of Toyota includes the possibility that electric problems had a role in sudden acceleration.

“We will continue to investigate all possible causes of unintended acceleration,” LaHood said.

He said that the thousands of recalls by Toyota were important steps but “we don’t maintain that they answer every question” about causes of sudden acceleration. Also being heard from Tuesday are drivers like Rhonda Smith, a Tennessee woman whose Toyota-made Lexus suddenly zoomed to 160k/h as she tried to get it to stop – shifting to neutral, trying to throw the car into reverse and hitting the emergency brake.

Finally, her car slowed down before she crashed.

Smith wrote down her feelings after the 2006 scare, saying she had “a near death experience, which occurred on October 12, 2006 between approximately 10:50 and 11:00 am At almost exact 10 kilometres God intervened” and slowed the car. She said that nothing she had tried had worked.

Smith’s description of her nightmare ride in October 2006 will precede testimony by safety experts – and set the tone for the hearing.

Toyota executives and the secretary of transportation also will be at the witness table.

Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s investigative panel will be armed with preliminary staff findings that Toyota and the government failed to protect the public.

Toyota, which has recalled 8.5 million vehicles to fix acceleration problems in several models and braking issues in the 2010 hybrid Prius, is bringing apologies to the hearing.

“Put simply, it has taken us too long to come to grips with a rare but serious set of safety issues, despite all of our good faith efforts,” said Lentz, president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc.

More than 150 Toyota dealers gathered in the Capitol on Tuesday before the hearing to lobby politicians in support of the carmaker. Many wore buttons saying, “I am Toyota in America.”

“We made a choice, a conscious decision, to be part of something, rather than just submit to it,” said Tammy Darvish, a Washington area dealer who helped organise the action, which Toyota also helped coordinate.

Tuesday’s hearing, along with a second House hearing Wednesday, present a high bar in the company’s attempts to persuade the public it cares about safety.

Toyota dealers are complaining that the besieged carmaker is being treated unfairly by the US government. Some have questioned the government’s impartiality because it has invested billions in two competitors.

The US owns a majority stake in General Motors after bailing out the company last year. It also owns a smaller portion of Chrysler.

At a news conference in advance of the hearing Tuesday morning, some complained the government is picking on Toyota, even though there have been dozens of recalls of other carmakers’ vehicles in the past year.

Representative Bart Stupak, a Democrat and chairman of the subcommittee, wrote Toyota that the company misled the public by failing to reveal that misplaced floor mats and sticking gas pedals accounted for only some of the acceleration problems.

He said the company resisted the possibility that electronics problems were the cause.

On Wednesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hear from company president Akio Toyoda, who is expected to speak to the committee and the American public through a translator.

Eels the man to catch at PGA playoffs

Ernie Els is the man to catch when the US PGA playoffs begin Thursday at The Barclays, but the South African star will have to shine in the next month to take advantage of his season’s work.


Els leads the year’s points chase that will decide the 2010 season champion and a 10 million-dollar top prize following next month’s Tour Championship, but with point values higher for playoff events, his work is far from over.

“I had a good start to my season, won two tournaments in March and a couple of top-5s and I had the right people win different tournaments for me to stay on top, so I’m in pretty fortunate position where I am right now,” Els said.

“Totally different ball game the next four weeks. So it’s very important for me to play well. But for me to keep a lead or enhance my lead, I need to play really well this week. I’m in a good position to do that so I’d like to do it.”

Els feels far from a target simply because there are three elimination events to decide the 30 qualifiers for the Tour Championship and only then will the leader hold an inside edge to the title.

“I don’t feel like it yet, because I think there’s so many points available and there are so many guys that can make moves,” Els said.

“I think by the Tour championship, you can feel like maybe guys are coming after you. I think more than anything, we’re hunting points. And that’s what we’re here for. Any way to get a lot of points is to play good golf.

“I can go backwards very quickly if I don’t play good golf.”

Players must stand among the top 100 in points after Sunday to reach next week’s event in Boston and must crack the top 60 to reach Chicago, where the 30-man field for the Tour Championship in Atlanta is decided.

World number one Tiger Woods, still searching for his first title of the year, stands 112th on the points list. He must finish in a range between 50th or 57th depending on how rivals perform in order to reach next week’s event.

“I’m still working on some things,” Woods said. “I was pleasantly surprised and pleased at the shape of shots I was able to hit.”

Woods was surprised at how long the course played after overnight rain.

“Everyone said it was going to be a pretty tricky course,” Woods said. “With the greens this soft, it will be interesting to see how they set it up.”

World number two Phil Mickelson, who has missed chances in recent weeks to pass Woods and claim the top spot for the first time, likes his chances this week.

“I feel like my game’s actually in pretty good shape,” Mickelson said. “It would be pretty cool (to be No. 1). I’ve been trying real hard to accomplish that. I just haven’t played well enough yet. Hopefully I’ll be able to put it together this week.”

Els and other leaders received a boost when US veteran Jim Furyk, third in points, overslept and missed the pro-am to earn a disqualification from the Barclays. He has enough points to safely reach next week but will stumble back.

“It was a bit of a shock,” Els said. “It was very unfortunate. Jim is the ultimate professional. But unfortunately we have rules. He must be very disappointed because he’s played some great golf.”

Mickelson ripped the rule mandating pro-am appearances that bit Furyk.

“I cannot disagree with it more,” Mickelson said. “I have no idea how the commissioner let this rule go through. It’s ridiculous.”

BP cagey about oil spill fix

BP has succeeded in capturing ‘some’ oil and gas by inserting a mile-long tube into the main Gulf of Mexico leak, but would not say if it was a significant percentage of the gusher or just a few drops.


Despite the uncertainty, it was still the first tangible sign of success in more than three weeks of efforts to prevent at least 210,000 gallons of oil from spewing unabated into the sea each day and feeding a massive slick off the coast of Louisiana.

BP senior executive vice president Kent Wells refused to be drawn on quantity, but confirmed that after a temporary hitch in which the tube became dislodged overnight, siphoning operations were up and running once again.

“We will look to… capture as much of the oil as we can,” he told reporters in Houston, Texas. “At this point, we don’t know what percentage we will capture” by the process, in which the oil was sucked up as if through a straw to the giant ship.

A BP statement said simply that the four-inch (10-centimeter) diameter tube inserted into the 21-inch leaking pipe using undersea robots had captured “some amounts of oil and gas.”

Wells added that the BP crews “don’t have any idea at this point” how much crude is being collected and would only have a better estimate in coming days.

“The oil was stored on board the Discoverer Enterprise drill ship 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) above on the water’s surface, and natural gas was burned through a flare system on board the ship,” the statement said.

The Barack Obama administration seemed unimpressed however, saying BP’s latest efforts, even if they manage to slow the leak, would not permanently stop the underwater geyser.

“This technique is not a solution to the problem, and it is not yet clear how successful it may be,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.

“We are closely monitoring BP’s test with the hope that it will contain some of the oil, but at the same time, federal scientists are continuing to provide oversight and expertise to BP as they move forward with other strategies to contain the spill and stop the flow of oil,” they said.

The Deepwater Horizon rig, leased by BP from Transocean, has been gushing oil since an explosion on April 20 ripped through the drilling platform and caused it to sink two days later. Eleven workers were killed.

Fresh analysis of enormous plumes of oil under the surface suggest the spill may be far worse than previously estimated.

One was reported to be 10 miles (16 kilometers) long, three miles wide and 300 feet thick.

Researchers from the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology said the plumes were “perhaps due to the deep injection of dispersants which BP has stated that they are conducting.”

Response crews have so far used some 560,000 gallons of the controversial chemical dispersants, spraying them onto surface oil and also directly into the leak in a bid to break up the oil.

“The oil still exists, it’s just spread in smaller pieces,” Aaron Viles, campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network, a coalition of environmental groups, told AFP. “It could have a significant impact on the marine life of the Gulf of Mexico.”

University of Georgia researcher Samantha Joye, who is on a scientific mission to gather details about the looming environmental disaster, told The New York Times that oxygen levels have dropped 30 percent near the plumes, in an “alarming” trend that is endangering marine life.

But Andrew Gowers, head of group media for BP, dismissed reports that “speculate” on the giant plumes. He said officials “had no confirmation” of oil clumping together in mid-ocean areas.

On Sunday a large concert in New Orleans was drawing crowds to support Gulf fishermen, whose livelihoods are threatened by the oil spill, with rocker Lenny Kravitz heading the line-up.

“This is a catastrophe,” Kravitz told CNN television. “I love this place. And this place has been through so much in the last several years,” he said referring to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

“Here we are, getting hit again,” Kravitz lamented.

Officials said some 19,000 personnel and more than 650 vessels have been deployed to try to mitigate the negative effects of the spill on the Gulf shoreline and wildlife.

Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard told AFP that oil was washing ashore in at least two new locations — Whiskey Island, Louisiana and Long Beach, Mississippi.

Engineers are mulling several different options to seal the main leak, which has spewed out an estimated five million gallons so far according to the most conservative estimates, and prevent the giant slick from destroying ecologically fragile wetlands and nature reserves.

A relief well that would divert the flow and allow the well to be permanently sealed may not be ready until August.

Jetstar and AirAsia deal to cut prices

Jetstar and AirAsia have unveiled plans to slash costs and ticket prices by pooling some resources, taking the first step in an alliance that could transform the Asian budget market.


Jetstar chief executive Bruce Buchanan said the non-equity arrangement, which he described as a world first between low-cost airlines, was expected to save hundreds of millions of dollars in costs.

“By getting together and focusing on areas where we can actually reduce costs we think it’s a really exciting opportunity,” Buchanan told reporters, calling the deal an “important first step”.

“We have identified… many hundreds of millions of dollars of cost saving opportunities, and we think that is an exciting opportunity for us as we launch this partnership going forward.”

Jetstar, a subsidiary of Australian flag-carrier Qantas, will share parts and ground and passenger handling services with Malaysia’s AirAsia, which is Asia’s biggest budget airline.

They will also investigate jointly procuring new aircraft, cooperate on buying engineering and maintenance supplies and will carry each other’s passengers stranded by breakdowns and other disruptions.

Competitive edge

Qantas chief Alan Joyce said the deal would give both airlines an edge in the competitive Asian market.

“Jetstar and AirAsia offer unmatched reach in the Asia-Pacific region, with more routes and lower fares than their main competitors, and this new alliance will enable them to maximise that scale,” he said.

Jetstar, operating 60 aircraft, is the world’s largest long-haul budget carrier, while AirAsia leads the Asian low-cost market with 85 planes servicing more than 60 destinations.

Analysts said the two were moving to dominate the growing Asian budget sector and were likely to announce further joint ventures.

“Certainly the teaming of two of Asia’s leading low-cost carriers suggests that there will be some move to really dominate this region over the longer term,” Derek Sadubin, chief operating officer of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, said.

“We expect that the agreement could flourish over time to include revenue-generating agreements and potential joint ventures in a range of other areas.”

Markets react

IG Markets analyst Ben Potter said Jetstar and AirAsia were “thinking outside the box” to stay ahead of the competition.

“In an extremely competitive environment where airlines have been under constant pressures from a number of different forces, this world first alliance is very positive indeed,” he said.

“The Asia-Pacific region is one of the biggest growth markets in aviation, so any ways to further reduce costs and offer more competitive fares will benefit both shareholders and customers.”

Qantas shares rose 1.4 percent to $3 shortly after the announcement. Shares in the airline closed down one cent at $2.95.

Condition of injured soldiers worsens

The condition of two of the Australian soldiers injured in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan on Monday has worsened.


Three Australian soldiers and a US soldier died in the crash, and five others were injured.

They’re all being treated at a US military hospital in Germany, where doctors say two that were in a satisfactory condition are now in a serious condition.

Three of the seven remain in a very serious condition. The condition of the other two is described as satisfactory.

The soldiers are suffering from multiple fractures, lacerations, and crush injuries. One of them also has a head injury.

Medical staff say it’ll be some time before any of them are able to travel back to Australia.

Ramp ceremony

The bodies of three dead soldiers are on their way home following a sombre ceremony in Afghanistan.

A ramp ceremony was held at the Tarin Kowt base in Oruzgan Province on Thursday to honour privates Ben Chuck, Tim Aplin and Scott Palmer ahead of their homecoming.

The flag-draped coffins of the three fallen soldiers were loaded onto a RAAF C130J plane at Tarin Kowt for a flight to the Al Minhad Base in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday night.

From there they will be flown to Australia.

The deaths of the three soldiers and injuries to seven others had deeply affected their comrades, Australian commander Major-General John Cantwell said.

“Tim, Ben and Scott were consummate professionals,” he said.

“Their deaths have hit us all hard but we must remember that they died doing exactly what they wanted to be doing.”

General Cantwell said the three soldiers had been given a “true warrior’s farewell in the finest traditions”.

“Our focus is now on ensuring that their families are assisted in every way possible to come to terms with what must be unbelievable grief.”

Australian troops were joined by personnel from the Afghan National Army and other NATO-led coalition forces at Tarin Kowt.

Returning home

The Queensland family of 27-year-old Private Chuck will fly to Sydney on Friday.

Jason Chuck said his brother’s body was due to arrive in Sydney on Saturday, and the family would be there to see him returned home.

He said Private Chuck’s body would be flown home to Yungaburra, near Cairns, on Tuesday, ahead of a funeral service on Thursday.

“We are really looking forward to having him back,” Mr Chuck told The Cairns Post.

“We will have a service for him in Sydney on Monday with his unit and then we will bring him back on Tuesday.”

Mr Chuck said the Sydney ceremony would be held at the barracks where his brothers unit, the 2nd Commando Regiment, was based.

“It will just be the regiment and family and friends of the three boys,” he said.

“It will be more of an opportunity for Benny’s army mates to say goodbye and we are really pleased we have been given an opportunity to be part of it.”

Protesters denounce BP over spill

Hundreds of US protesters have braved bad weather to voice their anger at BP for its Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and at the Obama administration’s response to the disaster.


Some 500 people turned out to the demonstration in New Orleans’ French Quarter – a city better known for Mardi Gras parties than political protests.

The demonstration brought together left-wing urban activists and newly unemployed fishermen from conservative coastal parishes hit hard by the worst oil spill in US history.

The crowd that filled an outdoor amphitheater on the Memorial Day holiday weekend was larger – and angrier – than expected.

“Eco-murderers!” shouted Belinda Sopczak of New Orleans.

Clean-up concerns

Her protest sign featured a crude sketch of a black skull with the British energy giant’s green and yellow logo over both eye sockets, and bearing the words “British Polluters”.

“I’m here because I want BP to plug the oil well, clean up their mess and get the hell out – and no more drilling offshore,” said Sopczak, demanding a federal takeover of the spill control effort spearheaded by President Barack Obama himself.

“When is Obama going to come in and take over? It’s really bad.”

Her 14-year-old son, Gabe Letitia of New York, stood nearby holding up a sign that read: “BP = Bad People.”

“If you mess up on a job, you’re not doing your job at all,” Letitia said.

“This is my first time protesting anything in my life, so it’s a big experience for me.”

Fishermen badly hit

The nightmare hitting the waters, beaches and marshes of Louisiana has begun to whip some into a rage as they contemplate the future of the stricken Gulf Coast and their way of life.

New Orleans area fishermen, oyster farmers and environmental activists took turns using a bullhorn to address the crowd.

“You make a mess? Be a man and clean it up!” charged Dean Blanchard, a shrimp wholesaler and protest organizer from Venice, Louisiana. The crowd roared its approval.

George Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fishermen’s Association, called on protesters to remember the workers who were killed when the well blowout triggered a mighty explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20.

“A lot of people are losing sight of the 11 people who lost their lives,” he said.

Barisich’s collective is suing BP in federal court for damages to Louisiana’s billion-dollar seafood industry.

Toxic dispersant fears

Other speakers called for BP to stop using Corexit – a toxic oil dispersant that BP argues has proven effective at breaking up the spill.

Mike Easely, a college statistics professor, held up a protest sign stating: “Time for Corporate Death Penalty.” Easely did not elaborate, saying the sign spoke for itself.

More than a few banners prodded Obama to do more in the crisis, with one urging the president to “get your head out of the oily sand”.

Activist Sandy Rosenthal blasted what she described as the too-cozy ties between federal regulators and the British energy giant.

She said the disaster was bitterly reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when storm waters overpowered the federal levee system, left more than 1,500 people dead and shattered New Orleans and parts of the Gulf Coast.

“Because of engineers and lax federal oversight of the both the levees and BP, Louisiana is devastated.”

World Cup draw lends Africa no favours

Former stars like Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew and George Weah talked before the first round draw of Ghana or Ivory Coast having the potential to go all the way and lift the trophy at the 90,000-seat Soccer City stadium near Soweto.


But the Cape Town pairings offered Africa no favours with Ghana in Group C beside Australia, Germany and Serbia and Ivory Coast even worse off in Group G after getting Brazil, Portugal and North Korea.

South Africa were among the eight top seeds, because they are hosts rather than due to the strength of the national team, but they might as well have been unseeded having drawn France, Mexico and Uruguay in a Group A melting pot.

Algeria, who eliminated African champions Egypt after a play-off, are back at the World Cup for first time since 1986 with little hope of Group D progress against England, Slovenia and the United States.

Nigeria were a little luckier after being paired with Argentina, Greece and South Korea and could finish second behind the South Americans despite the ‘Super Eagles’ class of 2010 being far from vintage.

Cameroon are probably happiest of the sextet because although the Netherlands are likely to top Group E, the ‘Indomitable Lions’ can realistically dream of finishing above Denmark and Japan.

And the second round offers no respite for Africa with England, among the title favourites thanks to a Fabio Capello-led renaissance, potential opponents for Ghana and European champions Spain probably lying in wait for Ivory Coast.

If these scenarios are not sufficiently depressing, how about Argentina versus South Africa, Cameroon tackling defending champions Italy, Nigeria up against 2006 runners-up France and Algeria versus Germany.

The furthest Africa has gone in the most watched global sport event is the quarter-finals with Roger Milla-inspired Cameroon making the last eight in 1990 and Senegal matching that feat 12 years later with El-Hadji Diouf to the fore.

Brazil legend Pele, a world champion at 17 who featured in two other World Cup-winning teams, predicted many years ago that an African country would reach the summit by the turn of the century.

But 10 years on he is not sure that even ‘home’ advantage will be enough and believes all six African contenders for a trophy held by Italy face a tough task dodging a first-round cull that will see 16 teams make an early exit.

“All the African teams have tough groups, but if any qualify for the knockout stage they could cause a surprise,” said the 1958, 1962 and 1970 World Cup medal winner.

African challengers are notorious for conceding own goals with recurring problems including last-minute coaching changes, poor preparations and officials more concerned about their welfare than that of the footballers.

Nigeria and Ivory Coast hired Swedish coaches Lars Lagerback and Sven Goran Eriksson just months before the finals and neither has played much since the African Nations Cup in Angola last January.

These actions appear to bear out a warning sounded by three-time African Footballer of the Year and Inter Milan striker Samule Eto’o as he prepared for the first World Cup staged on African soil.

“Everything counts … hotels, food, travel, bonuses, the guy who collects the bibs after training … some of our nations remain too amateurish in their approach,” stressed the Cameroon captain.

Rescued teen sailor vows to try again

A multi-national effort was mobilised to save sixteen-year-old Abby Sunderland whose 12-metre (40 foot) yacht “Wild Eyes” was dismasted during a fierce storm on Thursday.


French and Australian officials scrambled to rescue the teenage solo sailor and she was taken onboard a French fishing boat Saturday after two nights drifting helpless.

“I’m definitely going to sail around the world again or really give it another try,” she told the ABC on Saturday.

“I’ve wanted to sail around the world for years and am definitely going to do it sometime.”

The California-based teenager, who is now en route to the French island of Reunion, said she was still in shock over the incident — in which she battled heavy seas all day, enduring repeated knock-downs until the mast was snapped.

She said she wasn’t particularly scared or lonely during her ordeal, but admitted she was fortunate she could be rescued as soon as she was.

“I’m really lucky that there was a boat to come and get me where I was,” she said.

Writing on her blog on Saturday, Sunderland rejected criticism that she was too young to attempt to sail solo around the world or had misjudged her ability to sail through the southern hemisphere winter.

“There are plenty of things people can think of to blame for my situation; my age, the time of year and many more,” she wrote on soloaround.blogspo南宁夜生活,m.

“The truth is, I was in a storm and you don’t sail through the Indian Ocean without getting in at least one storm.

“It wasn’t the time of year it was just a Southern Ocean storm. Storms are part of the deal when you set out to sail around the world.

“As for age, since when does age create gigantic waves and storms?”

Sunderland, whose parents had supported her round-the-world attempt, is expected to reach Reunion by late Monday, depending on the weather.

Her compact sailboat, which was equipped with a small bunk bed, a water-maker and a store of freeze-dried food, was abandoned and her parents have said it is unlikely to be retrieved.

However, fund-raising on Sunderland’s website to bring the boat back with the teenager have so far drawn pledges of more than 2,400 US dollars.

In Australia, whose planes first spotted Sunderland’s stricken yacht about 2,000 nautical miles off the West Australian coast on Friday and revealed the teenager was alive, questions have been raised about the cost of the rescue.

But the government said it would not attempt to recover the cost.

“The Australian taxpayer at the end of the day makes a contribution,” Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said.

“But we have to put this in context — if there was an Australian lost at sea we would want… every effort to be made to save that person.”

The teen’s rescue comes just a month after Australia’s Jessica Watson became the youngest person to sail round the world non-stop, solo and unassisted, aged 16. Sunderland’s brother Zac completed his own round-the-world solo sail last year aged 17, as did Britain’s Mike Perham — who is now dating Watson.