DETROIT – Toyota Motor Corp. is too insular and doesn’t do a good job of incorporating feedback from customers or outside testing agencies into its car designs, according to a panel that the company set up last year after a series of safety recalls.

The seven-member panel also said Toyota should appoint executives who are responsible for safety and should give more decision-making power to regional executives outside Japan.

Toyota set up the panel last year after it recalled millions of vehicles for safety defects, including sticky accelerator pedals. U.S. government testing has since indicated that the problems weren’t caused by electronics or software, but most likely by ill-fitting floor mats or driver error.

The panel said the recalls exposed problems in Toyota’s structure that made the company slow to identify safety issues and react to them, such as:

A top-down management structure that limits communication between various divisions about potential problems.

Resistance to outside feedback related to the design and safety of its products.

A failure to understand that safety problems are distinct from quality problems. (Quality refers to the execution of design and manufacturing.)

As an example, the panel pointed to a 2007 federal investigation of sudden-acceleration complaints about the Lexus ES 350, noting that it was the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, rather than Toyota, that took the time to identify the nature of consumer complaints.

Toyota, by contrast, “noted its success in saving over $100 million by negotiating a limited recall of all-weather floor mats,” an example of what the independent panel called the automaker’s view of regulation as an “adversarial process” that considers blocked regulations to be “wins.”

Brian O’Neill, a panel member and the former president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an insurance-funded group that conducts car safety tests, said data from dealers, customers, government regulators and other test groups can be cumbersome and difficult to decipher. But it’s crucial to pay attention to it and use it to track potential defects and improve design.

“I think Toyota understands that now, but I don’t think they understood that early on in Japan,” O’Neill said Monday in a conference call. “There’s more to listening to customers than filling out checklists.”

Panel members said that when they began their work, Toyota had no executives responsible for vehicle safety, and instead saw safety as something everyone should consider. The panel recommended that Toyota appoint executives who would be responsible for setting and meeting safety goals and handling safety issues as they arose in various markets.

Toyota says it’s already following some of the recommendations, including naming chief safety officers in North America and Japan. It has also extended the development time of its vehicles to allow more testing.

“Over the past year, Toyota has learned a great deal from listening to the panel’s valuable counsel,” Toyota President Akio Toyoda said in a statement.

— The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.