Toyota executive cited ‘need to come clean’

Internal e-mail reveals concerns on accelerators

By Larry Margasak and Ken Thomas
Associated Press / April 8, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Five days before Toyota announced a massive recall, a US executive at the company wrote in an internal e-mail: “We need to come clean’’ about accelerator problems, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.

“We are not protecting our customers by keeping this quiet,’’ wrote Irv Miller, group vice president for environment and public affairs. “The time to hide on this one is over.’’

The recently retired Miller wrote the Jan. 16, 2010, e-mail as Toyota officials were on their way to Washington to discuss the problems with federal regulators. On Jan. 21, Toyota Motor Corp. said it would recall 2.3 million vehicles to address sticking pedals in six vehicle models.

“We better just hope that they can get NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] to work with us in coming [up] with a workable solution that does not put us out of business,’’ Miller wrote.

The e-mail was addressed to Katsuhiko Koganei, executive coordinator for corporate communications for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

“I hate to break this to you but WE HAVE A tendency for MECHANICAL failure in accelerator pedals of a certain manufacturer on certain models,’’ Miller’s e-mail began.

In a memo earlier that day, Koganei wrote Mike Michels, vice president of external communications, “Now I talked with you on the phone, we should not mention about the mechanical failures of acc. pedal because we have not clarified the real cause of the sticking acc pedal formally, and the remedy for the matter has not been confirmed.’’

Koganei further wrote that Toyota executives were concerned that news of the mechanical failures “might raise another uneasiness of customers.’’

Toyota declined to comment on Miller’s e-mail. But the automaker said: “We have publicly acknowledged on several occasions that the company did a poor job of communicating during the period preceding our recent recalls.’’

Miller said he had no comment. His retirement was announced by Toyota on Dec. 16 and was effective Feb. 1.