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TORRANCE, Calif. (


) -- The bad news caught up with


(TM) - Get Toyota Motor Corp. Report

on Wednesday, as the automaker's shares were falling about 2.5% in a generally flat market.

About an hour before the market close, Toyota stock was down $1.89 to $74.10. The shares hit a 2010 high of $91.97 on Jan. 19. As Toyota's problems mounted, shares fell to $71 on Feb. 4, and then rose to $77.08 on Feb. 12 before falling back.

Wednesday's decline followed news of the possibility that the popular Corolla has power-steering problems that could lead to a recall, as well as CEO's Akio Toyoda's declaration that he will not appear at next week's congressional hearings on whether Toyota acted too slowly to implement recalls.

Because the


will play a major role in defining consumer perception of Toyota's response to its current crisis, Toyoda's absence could conceivably create an impression that he is dodging responsibility. Instead, Yoshi Inaba, Toyota's top U.S. executive, will take the heat.

Inaba is said to be fluent in English. He will face the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Feb. 24. It is unclear whether he will also appear at Toyota hearings before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Feb. 25 and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on March 2.

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"We are sending the best people to the hearing, and I hope to back up the efforts from headquarters," Toyoda told reporters in Tokyo, where he conducted his third news conference in two weeks. "We are not covering up anything, and we are not running away from anything," he said.

One fascinating aspect of the hearings will be to see where legislators line up. Will backers of the Detroit Three take the opportunity to bash Toyota, or will they sympathize with the problems of the auto industry? Already, four governors have written a letter defending Toyota and suggesting that the Obama administration has a "conflict of interest" because it holds a majority stake in

General Motors.

The four governors represent Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky and Mississippi, all states where Toyota has a presence. Three are Republicans and one is a Democrat.

Meanwhile, Shinichi Sasaki, Toyota's executive vice president, said Toyota is reviewing consumer complaints about Corolla steering. He said that

some drivers said they lost steering control

, and that Toyota is awaiting more information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Tuesday's news was also bad. The NHTSA said it is seeking documents from Toyota as it reviews whether the automaker conducted three recent


in a timely manner. Also, the company announced production cuts at plants in Georgetown, Ky. and San Antonio, Texas.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.