WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- A Toyota Motor Corp. executive urged the Japanese automaker to “come clean” in January about mechanical failures in accelerator pedals for some vehicles, after other officials suggested a more cautious approach.
Irv Miller, then a vice president for communications at Toyota's U.S. sales unit, told other officials in an e-mail on Jan. 16 that “the time to hide on this one is over.” The world's largest automaker recalled 2.3 million vehicles in the United States for accelerator pedal flaws the following week.
“We are not protecting our customers by keeping this quiet,” Miller wrote in an e-mail to Toyota executives in the U.S. and Japan, obtained Wednesday.
Toyota faces a proposed fine of $16.4 million after the U.S. Department of Transportation said this week the company “knowingly hid a dangerous defect” that caused its vehicles to accelerate unexpectedly. The carmaker waited at least four months before it told U.S. regulators in January that gas pedals in its vehicles may stick, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on April 5.
Miller, who retired from Toyota later in January, declined to comment when reached by phone Wednesday. His retirement was announced Dec. 16.
“While Toyota does not comment on internal company communications and cannot comment on Mr. Miller's e-mail, we have publicly acknowledged on several occasions that the company did a poor job of communicating during the period preceding our recent recalls,” Toyota's North American unit said Wednesday in a statement.
Toyota has recalled more than 8.5 million vehicles worldwide for flawed parts including accelerator pedals made by CTS Corp., based in Elkhart, Indiana, and floor mats that could jam and cause cars and trucks to accelerate unintentionally.
Miller and other communications staff discussed how the company should respond to a pending television report on unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles.
Katsuhiko Koganei, a company communications official based in Torrance, Calif., had said in a message earlier that day that Toyota “should not mention” mechanical failures in gas pedals “because we have not clarified the real cause” and “the remedy for the matter has not been confirmed.”
Mike Michels, a spokesman for Toyota who was also mentioned in the e-mails, declined to elaborate on them. No one at the company advocated hiding or ignoring concerns about accelerator pedals, he said.