WASHINGTON — 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.
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, in a statement, said it "does not comment on internal company communications" and declined to comment on Miller's e-mail. Miller declined to comment. 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 United States were rising at the end of 2009, according to the documents obtained by the AP.
Toyota has recalled more than 6 million vehicles in the United States and a total of more than 8 million worldwide because of acceleration problems in multiple models and braking issues in the Prius hybrid.