Another document has come to light in the ongoing investigation into Toyota’s problem with sudden unintended acceleration. This time it is an email from Irv Miller to a Japanese colleague, dated Jan. 16 of this year. At the time, Miller was Group Vice President, Environmental and Public Affairs, one of the company’s top spokespeople. In the email, Miller says, “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.” (These words were capitalized in the email.) He goes on to say, “We are not protecting our customers by keeping this quiet. The time to hide on this one is over” and says, “we need to come clean.”
The email, whose subject line reads in part “Re: Draft statement to respond to ABC news story,” also notes that Miller believes top Toyota executives were heading to Washington, DC, for meetings with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) officials.
This was just days before Toyota announced the second of its major recalls, for sticky accelerator pedals. This recall involved 2.3 million vehicles. The first recall – for defective or improperly installed floor mats – was issued in Fall 2009 and encompassed 3.8 million vehicles.
This latest document comes on the heels of a proposed $16.4 million fine against Toyota, which Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood announced Monday. The fine would be the largest civil penalty ever issued to an automaker by the government. The NHTSA says it chose the maximum penalty because Toyota failed to promptly notify the government about the safety problem involving its accelerator pedals.
The law states that auto manufacturers must alert U.S. safety regulators within five days of the time they determine a safety defect exists. However, documents revealed during the course of the investigation show that Toyota notified dealers in Canada and Europe about possible accelerator defects in September 2009, but did not announce a recall for this problem in the U.S. until Jan. 21, 2010. The pedal recall was expanded on Jan. 27, adding an additional 1.1 million vehicles.
In the email, Miller hopes that NHTSA will help Toyota reach “a workable solution that does not put us out of business.”