Toyota's president said it was "extremely regrettable" an American family died in a crash in which a floor mat in one of the Japanese automaker's vehicles is suspected as the cause.
"Four precious lives have been lost," Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda said Friday. "I offer my deepest condolences."
Without giving specifics, he said an investigation was underway into the problem which potentially affects 3.8 million Toyota vehicles in the U.S., and may cause the accelerator to get stuck. If Toyota decides on a recall, it would be Toyota's biggest ever in the U.S.
Toyoda, who took the helm at the world's top automaker in June, told reporters in Tokyo that Toyota was putting "customers first" in cooperating with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S. to investigate the cause of the August accident.
That crash killed California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor, 45 - who was driving a Lexus, a Toyota luxury model - and three family members on State Route 125 outside San Diego.
The vehicle was traveling at more than 120 mph when it launched off an embankment, rolled several times and burst into flames.
Toyoda said the company was still deciding on what action it would take and did not acknowledge any vehicle problem during his appearance at the Japan Press Center.
He apologized for any worries customers may have.
"I feel sorry that people who are driving Toyota and Lexus cars believing in their safety are now feeling uncertainties," he said.
NHTSA investigators determined that a rubber all-weather floor mat found in the wreckage was slightly longer than the mat that belonged in the vehicle, something that could have snared or covered the accelerator pedal.
Toyota has issued a safety advisory urging owners of 3.8 million cars and trucks - including popular models like Camry, Prius and Tacoma - to remove driver-side mats. It wants drivers to watch out for loose or incorrect mats that could slide out of position and cover pedals.
NHTSA has said it had received reports of 102 incidents in which the accelerator may have become stuck in the Toyota vehicles involved. It was unclear how many led to crashes.
The warning affects 2007-2010 model year Toyota Camry, 2005-2010 Toyota Avalon, 2004-2009 Toyota Prius, 2005-2010 Tacoma, 2007-2010 Toyota Tundra, 2007-2010 Lexus ES350 and 2006-2010 Lexus IS250 and IS350.