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CNN Larry King Live

Interview with Akio Toyoda; Trainer Drowned by Killer Whale at Sea World

Aired February 24, 2010 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, worldwide exclusive -- Toyota's president and CEO in his first interview since taking the blame for safety defects that led to deaths.


AKIO TOYODA, TOYOTA MOTOR CHIEF EXECUTIVE: I am deeply sorry for any accidents that Toyota drivers have experienced.


KING: Did the company that bears his name cut corners that could have led to runaway cars?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is absolutely appalling, sir.


KING: He answered Congress' questions today. He'll answer yours tonight.

And then a killer whale at Orlando's SeaWorld attacks and kills a handler. It's not the first time the six ton orca turned on a trainer.

Why was it allowed to happen again?


Good evening.

And a very special welcome to our international viewers, as well.

Akio Toyoda is the president and CEO of the Toyota Motor Company. He's the grandson of Toyota's founder. And he testified before a Congressional committee today about defects in Toyota products.

If you've got a question, by the way, send it into our Facebook page. It's or you can Twitter us at KingsThings.

We thank Mr. Toyoda for joining us.

By the way, at the hearing today, the interpretation had delays. We have simultaneous interpretation tonight.

Mr. Toyoda, by the way, you -- you spoke English well in the opening statement.

Why do you prefer that we do it through an interpreter?

TOYODA (through translator): Because I was given the opportunity to speak at the hearing and I wanted to convey that we are working very hard regaining the customers' trust and I wanted to be very accurate. And that's why I was a -- I asked to use the interpreters.

KING: But -- so you prefer, obviously, your native language.

Was it -- was it a difficult day for you?

TOYODA: Yes, honestly. I think it was not an easy day. But I tried very hard and I am not confident to what degree our sincerity was conveyed. But we are working together with the dealers and other customers who support us, our suppliers and other colleagues and our employer -- employees. And they all supported me, so I held on so far.

KING: Mr. Toyoda, would you say you were treated fairly by the congressmen?

TOYODA: This was my first opportunity to experience the hearing. I'm not sure if it was fair or not. But I would say I wonder to what extent people were able to understand what I was trying to say. And I would like to continue talking to people until they come to understand us.

KING: Do you think -- what do you think your grandfather would have said about all this, Mr. Toyoda?

How disappointed do you think he would be?

TOYODA: Well, my grandfather probably wishes that he's telling me to regain the trust of those customers who are driving our vehicles. You have to take the leadership, to work very hard so that we can win back our customers. I'm sure he is really cheering us.

KING: You apologized on behalf of Toyota. One congresswoman, Congressman Marcy Kaptur, didn't think you showed enough remorse.

How -- how sad -- this is hard to put in words, maybe -- how sad are you over this?

TOYODA: Well, all the vehicles bear my name and if the people's trust vis-a-vis the vehicles lessens, then that is the same to myself. It is very difficult to express with words, but sometimes people tell me that I'm not explaining enough. It's unfortunate, but I really would like to continue doing my very best to convey my feelings.

KING: Mr. Toyoda, you offered your condolences to the Sailor family specifically, who lost four members when their Toyota accelerated out of control. What do you say directly to -- to all -- what can you say now to the families directly, and many of whom will be watching tonight, who have lost loved ones?

What -- what do you say directly to them, as we show the Sailor family?

TOYODA: I would like to really express my most heartfelt sadness that those members of the family have had to lose their lives with a Toyota vehicle. And I would like to pray for them and extend my most heartfelt condolences.

KING: Well, the -- the pain is obvious.

Who -- when we look back, Mr. Toyoda, who was at fault?

Where did this start?

Did -- was it the engineers?

Who made the mistake?

In retrospect, where is the blame?

TOYODA: We, at Toyota, are trying very hard to make a good product -- good vehicles. When you think about what caused this, there may be many factors. When we look back upon what we have been doing, we always said that to make a vehicle means to make people. This has been said for the past 70 years.

And in that regard, perhaps our business grew much faster, outpaced the development of our human resources. That's one factor.

And another factor is that Toyota is a manufacturing company, but sometimes people said we are manufacturing money. And we must say there may have been a factor or that element within our organization.

Since I became a president last year in July, I have been sending the messages to all our employees to make better vehicles so that our customers would be very happy to ride our vehicles.

And we would like to maintain this. We really want to go back to this very basics.

KING: Toyota has long been a symbol of Japan's manufacturing might.

What is the reaction over there?

That's next.

Don't go away.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

If so, answer in the affirmative.


KING: We're back with Akio Toyoda, the president and CEO of Toyota Motor Company.

You discussed taking responsibility.

What do you do, Mr. Toyoda, with that responsibility?

More than eight million vehicles have been recalled worldwide.

What -- what do you do for your customers now?

TOYODA: First of all, to our customers, I would like to say that Toyota vehicles are safe. Now, for example, customers are perhaps most concerned about unintended acceleration and they might be concerned about our electronic throttle control system may have a problem. But I am here to explain to the American people that our engineers tried to reproduce those problems -- alleged problems -- and they've been working very hard. And as far as their effort goes, we were not able to recreate those malfunctioning.

So at this point in time, I would say that our vehicles are safe.

However, depending upon how the vehicles are used, on what kind of a roadway it's driven and how long it's been used, they may present different behavior phenomenon. So going forward, we would like to really sincerely listen to the voices of the customers. We want to pay more attention to the voices of the customers. And I'm really steering the company so that we can do that going forward.

And if we are to encounter such a problem in the future, we should be able to respond to them much more quickly. And I would like to commit to that. And I believe that is my responsibility to implement that right now at Toyota, I'm the only person who is to do that.

KING: The buck stops with you.

Are you saying that, in some cases, you would put warnings on the cars as to in what conditions or where to drive them?

TOYODA: Well, I believe that the vehicles are made by the roadways in each locale. The conditions of the roadways are changing and we have to really pay attention to that constantly. So it is not that I am to say here that, yes, we will put the warning sign here and there; rather, we really have to become much more attentive in listening to the voices from the customers. And we want to provide something more convenient, easier to use, much better and higher technical capability and we would like to strive for that.

KING: Have you come up, Mr. Toyoda, with a solution to the acceleration problem?

Do we definitively know why those cars accelerated?

TOYODA: Well, you're speaking as if there are four sort of categories of the cars. As I said earlier, the electronic throttle control failure is one and the other one is the way in which the car is driven and structure of the vehicle, for example, the relation or the location of the axle pedal -- the axle and the brake pedal or there may have been the problems with the parts and components.

So I would say roughly those four categories.

The ETC, electronics throttle control, as far as our investigation goes, they did not present any problems. However, unfortunately, in reality, there are accidents in the world and so we would like to work together with various people and continue to pursue what could possibly cause these problems.

KING: Will the...

TOYODA: And other three categories...

KING: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

TOYODA: -- we are installing the brake override system so in the very unlikely event, we should be able to handle that issue.

KING: You are not blaming the driver, though, are you?

TOYODA: No, not at all.

KING: Will Toyota overcome this crisis, regain its reputation? We'll ask that right after the break.



TOYODA: I am deeply sorry for any accident that Toyota drivers have experienced. In the past few months, our customers have started to feel uncertain about the safety of Toyota's vehicles, and I take full responsibility for that.


KING: We're back with Akio Toyoda, the president and CEO of the Toyota Motor Company.

Are we saying, Mr. Toyoda, unequivocally, that anyone watching this show tomorrow can go out and buy any Toyota product with complete feelings of safety?

TOYODA: Yes, that is right.

KING: No question. TOYODA: As I said earlier, the cars really behave according to the way it is used by the drivers or the customers, and also the roadways, environment. So I cannot say that it is safe forever going forward. So we are working together with the dealership and also trying to increase the dialogue with the customers, so that the customers cn enjoy our vehicle in a much more safer manner, and they can really enjoy it for a longer period of time.

KING: We have a question from our FaceBook page. The question is how do we know if the other cars not on the recall list are safe?

TOYODA: I'm not quite sure what that question mean.

KING: I guess it means if a car wasn't recalled, does that mean absolutely it's a safe car?

TOYODA: Well, I said earlier, we will be adding the brake override systems to the newly produced vehicle, but also, we will be putting it into the existing vehicle, as well. And I'm not an engineer myself, but I have already given instructions to our engineers that to what degree we need to retrofit this brake override system to the existing vehicle so that the customer can feel safe and use them in a comfortable way, so we would be providing this brake override system, and so that our customers can feel very certain and confident in riding their vehicles safely.

KING: How much blame do you put on your engineers?

TOYODA: Well, I wouldn't really blame the engineers. What happened this time, it is I, the chief executive officer, one on the very top, should be responsible for this. I would like to really listen to the customers' voices, and together with the dealership, distributor, (inaudible), we need to work together, and we would like to work together and to strive for regaining the trust once again from our customers.

KING: In our remaining moments with Mr. Toyoda, we'll ask where the company goes from here, can it rebound, what are the thoughts back in Japan? Don't go away.


KING: Back with our remaining moments with Akio Toyoda.

Will Toyota, Mr. Toyoda, will Toyota company pay for the victims' funerals and hospital costs and the like?

TOYODA: That relates to some of the legal matters going forward. We would like to do our utmost efforts.

KING: Well, we're seeing that obvious -- anyway, your critics back home say you didn't act quickly enough to deal with this problem. You should have been involved sooner. A lot of people in Japan are saying that. Are they right? Should, in retrospect, should you have acted sooner? TOYODA: Yes. Looking back at this point in time, I feel that we should have acted much more promptly. When our company has grown so rapidly globally since I became the president, I have assigned the executive vice president to really look at each region so that they can be much closer to each locale so that they can respond to various needs on the part of the customers of the each region. And at this time, this problem was so huge, and I really reflect upon the fact that I should have stepped in myself much sooner, and that may have caused some more concern, or some people may have felt uncomfort or unhappy. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for that.

KING: Mr. Toyoda, frankly, can the Toyota company come back? Can it be what it once was after this?

TOYODA: Yes. Right now, all our employees are in one. We are now using the safety customer number one. That's our motto. And try to make our company once again strong and really good.

Our biggest purpose is to create good product so that the customers would enjoy using them and be happy with them. Unfortunately, we have to talk about this quality issue with customers and try to remove their concern this time, but I hope in the future we would be able to carry out many dialogues together with the customers so that we can tell them how to use our vehicles in such a fun way and they can enjoy them in very safely manner. To that end, we would be working very, very hard, so I would like to ask your continued support.

KING: All right, a couple of other things. Do you see any Japan bashing in this?

TOYODA: Japan bashing? No. Well, at least through this quality problems, we learned a lot. This was a great opportunity for us to stop and look back upon ourselves. I take it a great opportunity that, you know, this was a great learning experiences for us. So leveraging on these experiences, I hope that we can really come back, make a comeback, and we never thought this was a Japan bashing.

KING: All right, two other things. You're famous for being publicity shy. Is this difficult for you? Was it hard to appear on this program tonight?

TOYODA: Well, Larry, I feel really honored that I was able to appear on your program as the number one person of my company. I thought the vehicles, the cars is the main character, so I wanted to stay on the side state (ph), but perhaps I should change my idea going forward and I need to talk to customers more straightforwardly.

KING: Thank you. One other thing. From our Twitter at Kings Things, what kind of car do you drive?

TOYODA: Well, I ride many different cars. Let's say I would drive 200 different vehicles in a year, so it's rather difficult to say which car or what car I ride. I love cars.

KING: Thank you very much, Mr. Toyoda. I hope everything turns around. Thank you very much for being with us.

TOYODA: Thank you.

KING: Akio Toyoda, president and CEO, Toyota Motor Company.


KING: Welcome back. A 40-year-old trainer -- her name was Dawn Brancheau -- was drowned by a killer whale at Sea World in Orlando, Florida, today. The whale, named Tilikum, is almost 30 years old, is 22 feet long, weighs 11,000 pounds and has killed before.

With us is Drew Petrimoulx from Orlando, Florida. He's a reporter with WDBO radio, a very famous radio station in that state. Also there, Lori and Scott Miller and their daughter Sophia. They were at Sea World today. They didn't witness the actual event. But they saw the earlier whale show before the incident.

Drew, we're getting conflicting reports. Officials say the female trainer was in the whale holding area when she apparently slipped. But a witness says the wale jumped up and grabbed the trainer by the waist. What are you hearing?

DREW PETRIMOULX, WDBO RADIO, ORLANDO: Well, since that time, Sea World has actually come forward and admitted that the whale, in fact, dragged her into the water. Just after noon today, she was rubbing the whale's stomach after a short meet and greet, a private event that they do after the show. That's when the whale grabbed her, dragged her into the water, kind of thrashed her around a little bit, took her under. Some of the people that were underneath in the viewing area, actually watching through the glass, saw this, and then that's when she drowned.

KING: So that was in a thing they do where people pay a little extra and get a private thing, right?

PETRIMOULX: Exactly. After the show, it's called Dining with Shamu, I think it's called. They have a lunch and they get to interact with the trainer and they get to watch a little bit closer, pay a little extra money to see a closer show.

KING: Let's listen to a witness account, which is different from what Sea World says happened. Let's see what the witness says.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then Tilikum just took off like a bat out of you know where, just took off really fast, and then he came back around to the glass, jumped up, and grabbed the trainer by the waist and started shaking her violently.


KING: well, I think that's what they're now saying. Lori and Scott Miller, you saw, what, an earlier show? LORI MILLER, SEA WORLD TOURIST: Yes, the main show was called "Believe," and that's the show that most people are familiar with, where the Shamu whales come and jump out of the water and splash everyone in the splash -- soak zone. And there was a disturbance during that show. The event actually happened after the show. But the whale --

KING: What was the disturbance.

L. MILLER: The whales weren't behaving. They weren't following the instructions. And the senior trainer actually came out onto the stage to let the crowd know, shortly after they had done the soak zone part, that the whales decided they were having more fun splashing each other than splashing the crowd. And it seems like a statement that she had prepared to sort of vamp while they regrouped.

And she told us that the whales needed to calm down and decide -- because we don't tell them what to do. We ask them to perform for us. And if they don't want to, we don't force them. So there --

KING: Scott, did the crowd understand that?

SCOTT MILLER, SEA WORLD TOURIST: They seemed to. They were quite clear. They told us they brought a couple of the whales out to the back tanks to regroup, to actually watch how they swim, which dictates what they'll do next in the program.

L. MILLER: They said --

KING: Dawn Brancheau -- Dawn Brancheau, who was killed today, was interviewed by CNN in 2008 for a Miles O'Brien report about transportation at Sea World. Take a look.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Dawn Brancheau is at work, she has a very low carbon fin print. And now her trip to and from Shamu's crib at Sea World is a little easier on the environment, as well.

DAWN BRANCHEAUX, KILLED BY SEA WORLD KILLER WHALE: It's one small but really big way that we're trying to make an impact.


KING: Boy, Drew, is Sea World closed for awhile now?

PETRIMOULX: I know that at least that part of the park is going to be closed. Right when this happened, they kind of sectioned off that area of the park. But no word on if they're going to close for a long period of time. My guess is that they probably won't.

KING: Thank you all very much.

A woman who survived a killer whale attack is here next.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe ten minutes into the show, they asked the -- gave the command for the whales to start splashing, you know, everybody. So we got all excited. And it was obvious that one or two of the whales was not listening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She explained. It you know, swimming very fast. This is a time that we need to let him calm down and swim slower and see if he changes his pattern.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We saw it. It was like running miserably. We could tell like this whale was not in a good mood at all.


KING: That was, of course, all after the fact. Joining us for a moment is Annette Eckis Goosey. She survived a killer whale attack. In fact, there is a tape of the horrifying event. Let's take a look and then we'll talk to Annette.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Suddenly, a woman is slammed into the water. She's completely at the mercy of the killer whale. Annette struggles for air as she's pushed through the water. Another trainer brings in a rescue pole, and Annette reaches for it.

But before she's pulled to safety, the creature rams her again, ripping the pole from her hands. The whale bites down on her leg and won't let go. The trainers know if they pull too hard, her flesh will be shredded by the animal's giant teeth. One of the trainers forces the whale to open its jaws and the injured woman is pulled to safety.


KING: when did this happen, Annette?


KING: How badly were you hurt?

GOOSEY: I was -- I had about 200 stitches from the waist down. I had lacerations and punctures.

KING: Were you working there or what were you doing at the time?

GOOSEY: I was a secretary there. And they asked me to do this for promotion to change the whale from a smaller tank to a larger tank. And so there was news media there at the time.

KING: So what did you think when you heard about what happened today?

GOOSEY: I was just -- I was just devastated. I can't believe -- it was so sad and I felt so much sympathy for Dawn's father or for their family, I mean. And I was just sick.

KING: Do you have any thought as to what prompted the whale to attack you?

GOOSEY: No, except that I heard later that the -- no one had ever ridden the wale without a wet suit, and no women had ever ridden the whale. So two very different situations.

KING: Thanks, Annette. Annette Eckis Goosey. Joining us now in Washington, Phillipe Cousteau, that famous name, environmental ocean correspondent for the Animal Planet, Naomi Rose, also in Washington, marine mammal scientist for the Humane Society. She studied Tilikum when she was getting her PHD back in 1987. And in Monterey, California is Nancy Black, marine biologist for the Monterrey Bay Whale Watch. She does not believe the whale should be confined for spectator-type entertainment.

Philippe, do you think whale shows are good or bad?

PHILIPPE COUSTEAU, ANIMAL PLANET: I don't think that all whale shows are created equal. That's for sure. And, you know, many of the marine mammals that are in captivity now are unreleasable, so that's a certain specific issue. But I think that they are wild animals, and we we should respect them. And at times perhaps we don't give them the respect that they deserve.

KING: Naomi, you studied Tilikum. What do you make of this, what happened today?

NAOMI ROSE, HUMANE SOCIETY: Well, I'd like to correct that, first of all, Larry. Thank you very much for having me on. I didn't actually study Tilikum. I did know Tilikum when he was at Sea Land in Victoria. I did all my PHD work up in British Columbia, the wild killer whales that live up there.

KING: What do you make of what happened?

ROSE: Well, I think that -- as Philippe said, I feel very strongly that certain animals don't belong in captivity. My personal opinion and my organization's opinion is that orcas are a species that doesn't belong in captivity. I think that, put into that kind of confinement -- they're very large animal. They're very social. They're very intelligent. And those are very small enclosures for an animal of that size.

KING: All right. What we'll do is take a break. When I come back, we'll have a statement from PETA, and get Nancy Black's reaction to it, as well as Philippe's and Naomi's. We'll be right back.



KING: Back with Philippe Cousteau, Naomi Rose and Nancy Black. Nancy, I want you to listen to this statement. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, released this today. And it reads in part, "the death of the Sea World trainer, following the attack by Tilli the whale, is a tragedy that didn't have to happen. For years, PETA has been calling on Sea World to stop confining ocean going animals to an area that, to them, is like the size of a bathtub. And we've also been asking the park to stop forcing the animals to perform silly tricks over and over again. It's time for Sea World to heed PETA's advice and let marine mammals live at peace with their families in the world's ocean."

Nancy, what's your comment?

NANCY BLACK, MONTERREY BAY AQUARIUM: I do agree with that. I think times have changed, and now people have plenty of opportunities to see them in the wild. In fact, I personally not only have been studying killer whales in the wild for over 20 years, I actually take members of the public out on trips to see them. And seeing them in the wild is so much more an enriching experience.

And I tell people that all that time, how lucky they are to have a chance to see them in the wild, instead of in the captive situation, because there they're taken away from their family groups. They're put in very small tank, kind of isolated. They get very stressed out. So I think times are changing. And it is no longer acceptable to keep them in that situation.

KING: Philippe, what do you think?

COUSTEAU: Well, you know, Larry, I think it's a little bit more nuanced than that, in the fact that those animals that have been in captivity for a very long period of time, or have been born into captivity, cannot be released. And I believe that we should give them the most amount of respect and that, no, they should not be trotted out for our amusement and entertainment, but that perhaps they do have an educational value.

But I certainly agree and am against any new development of captive marine mammal programs, anywhere in the world.

KING: So you would say that none of these attractions should continue to do this, right?

COUSTEAU: Well, I --

KING: Beyond what they have now.

COUSTEAU: Well, certainly. And it's illegal in the United States to import or to capture animals from outside -- I see Naomi shaking her head.

ROSE: I'm sorry.

COUSTEAU: You know, but you -- it's certainly a case that we should not capture wild animals and put them on display. I'm absolutely against that.

KING: Naomi, what do you think? ROSE: Well, it is, in fact, not illegal. It is -- a permit is required to capture them from the wild, or to import them. And it is a public process. So the public is aware when somebody wants to conduct a capture or import. And they can comment on it and protest it, if they wish. It is true that nobody has tried to capture any marine mammals, any whales or dolphins, in the wild for captivity since 1993. But not because it is illegal, only because the publicity, the PR was so negative in that 1993 capture, which was off the coast of California, that nobody's tried it since.

However, we have heard that Sea World is interested in pursuing captures of some species of whales or dolphins in some parts of the world. And we are very concerned about that.

KING: Nancy, do you think -- you are not going to see it end, are you?

BLACK: Well, of course, the whales are still in captivity. It's true. They cannot be released in the wild, especially the ones that were born in captivity. So, you know, those need to live out a good life that hopefully is respectful and not kind of a silly show. But, you know, once their lives are over, hopefully that practice will end, and people can see them in the wild. They can see them on these amazing television programs. And, you know, lots of opportunities to travel to many places to see these animals.

And I think it was unfortunate what happened with this woman today. And I don't think it is the killer whale's fault. It could have been just upset or aggravated and just kind mistakenly held that woman under too long. I don't think it was purposely meaning to kill her.

But it is unfortunate and things like that could happen in the future with these large, predatory animals. These are top predators. We watch them hunt and kill gray whales that are several times their size. I mean, their force and power is so amazing.

KING: Wow. Wow. Thank you all very much, Philippe Cousteau, Naomi Rose, Nancy Black.

Got an update on that missing "Growing Pains" star we talked about last night. His parents are here, next.


KING: Actor Andrew Koenig, best known for his role in the series "Growing Pains," has been missing since February 14th, Valentine's Day. Vancouver police believe he may not be area. Kirk Cameron, who starred in "Growing Pains," has publicly urged Andrew to call him.

Andrew's, Walter and Judy Koenig, are in Vancouver, helping police search for their son. Walter may be familiar to you. He played Checkov in the original "Star Trek" series.

Now, I'm told that they left the studio. We will take a quick break and come back and find out why. Don't go away. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Well, folks, for some reasons, unbeknownst to anyone, Walter Koenig, the father of the missing Andrew Koenig, and Judy Koenig, the mother of the missing Andrew Koenig, left the studio in Vancouver. We checked them out. They were prepared to go on. I said hello. They both said hello. We said we would be on in two minutes. They said fine. They got up and left, for reasons unknown.

Let me give you, in the next minute and a half, a little preview of -- we have got a lot to cover tomorrow night. But one of the main things we taped earlier today is the director, star and writer of "The Hurt Locker." Watch a little preview of what you're going to see tomorrow night.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's he doing?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Enough in there to send us all to Jesus. If I'm gonna die, I want to die comfortable.


KING: All right. Tomorrow night on this program, we will have a major follow-up to the health summit that's going to take place tomorrow at Blair House, right across the street from the White House, in which the president and members of both parties will participate in what might be called the last-ditch or next-to-the last ditch effort to get a health bill. We will have a major follow-up to that.

Then you will meet Kathryn Bigelow, the director nominated for best director for "The Hurt Locker," Jeremy Renner, the star of "The Hurt Locker" -- he plays William James and he's nominated for best actor. Mark Bowl will be with us, the screen writer who wrote the original screenplay, and he's nominated. And also Jim O'Neil, who is executive director of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group. That group, they unplug bombs. It is an amazing movie. Wait until you see that tomorrow night.

Right now, you will see Jessica Yellin, who will improve the scene considerably with "AC 360." Jessica?