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Internal email from Toyota official raising questions

By LARRY MARGASAK and KEN THOMAS
Associated Press Writers
WASHINGTON (AP) - Five days before Toyota announced a massive
recall, a U.S. 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 announced 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 with several words in
capital letters.
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."
The subject line said the e-mail was in regard to a draft
statement to respond to an ABC News story.
A Toyota official did not immediately respond to a request for
comment Wednesday on the e-mails. Miller declined comment. His
retirement was announced by Toyota on Dec. 16 and his retirement
was effective Feb. 1.
The Transportation Department has assessed a record $16.4
million fine on Toyota for failing to alert the U.S. government to
the safety problems about the sticking accelerator pedals quickly
enough. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday that
Toyota made a "huge mistake" by not disclosing the safety
problems sooner.
Concerns about sticking gas pedals and complaints from Toyota
owners in the U.S. were rising at the end of 2009, according to
documents obtained by the AP. The documents show that on Sept. 29,
Toyota's European division issued technical information
"identifying a production improvement and repair procedure to
address complaints by customers in those countries of sticking
accelerator pedals, sudden rpm increase and/or sudden vehicle
acceleration."
Distributors throughout Europe and in Russia, Georgia,
Kazakhstan, Turkey and Israel received the technical information.
In mid-January, Toyota held internal meetings "to discuss
status of production changes and to prepare for meetings with
NHTSA" on Jan. 19, according to the timeline. Two days later,
Toyota announced it would recall 2.3 million vehicles to address
the sticking pedals.
The documents obtained by the AP were among 70,000 pages of
papers turned over to government investigators.
Toyota has recalled more than 6 million vehicles in the U.S. and
a total of more than 8 million worldwide because of acceleration
problems in multiple models and braking issues in the Prius hybrid.
The Japanese automaker was still weighing its options Wednesday
about whether to accept or contest the fine. It has also been named
in 138 potential class-action lawsuits over falling vehicle values
and nearly 100 personal injury and wrongful death cases in federal
courts.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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