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On Monday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it was fining Toyota $16.4 million for failing to recall vehicles due to faulty accelerator pedals in a timely fashion. Toyota has two weeks to either contest or pay the fine, but an e-mail obtained by the Detroit Free Press shows that it may be best for the Japanese automaker to quickly pay the fine and move on.

The document in question is an e-mail from Irv Miller, a now-retired public relations executive for the automaker's U.S. operations, and it shows that Toyota may have been aware of sticking gas pedals well before the company recalled 2.3 million vehicles to correct the potentially dangerous defect. Under federal law, automakers have five days after finding a safety defect before issuing an official recall.

Miller cautioned in his email that the automaker is not "protecting our customers by keeping this quiet. The time to hide on this one is over." Miller then went on to make absolutely clear that he was talking about unintended acceleration issues by adding "WE HAVE A tendency for MECHANICAL failure in accelerator pedals." The odd cadence of CAPS was apparently used by Miller for emphasis. Miller was apparently so concerned with top U.S. executive Yoshi Inaba and U.S. sales boss Jim Lentz's January meeting with NHTSA that he also wrote Toyota "better just hope that they can get NHTSA to work with us in coming to a workable solution that does not put us out of business."

The Freep
also reports that among the 70,000 documents gathered by NHTSA during its investigation was evidence that Toyota warned 31 European governments and Canada of the pedal problems as early as September, 2009. It reportedly even went as far as providing a service bulletin with instructions for repairing the pedals, but didn't issue a recall for sticking accelerator pedals in the U.S. until January 21, 2010.

Miller's e-mail could well make fighting that $16.4 million fine a really bad idea, but the larger looming issue may be that his words appear to show that Toyota wasn't acting in the best interest of its extremely loyal customers. It's a good thing Miller is (suddenly) retired, because he probably wasn't going to be the most popular guy in the office this week.

[Source: Detroit Free Press | Source Image: Bryan Mitchell/Getty]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      He's a lawyer, not an engineer. The engineers have spoken...

      The cars on the road have spoken...this is a fake issue...
        • 5 Years Ago
        ....and the readers of AB have spoken too.

        They say you're a moron.
        • 5 Years Ago
        You're talking about "good info" while you are providing none of your own. You are making some pretty big assumptions about this "non issue." People have died due to this "non issue." It cannot be ignored or forgotten.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Wow, great comment bud. Loads of good info there...thanks for that!

        So, this is now a mechanical issue...I thought it was an electrical issue...

        Oh wait, maybe this guy has NO CLUE because he doesn't work in engineering...

        Again, in 2-3 years, when the dust has settled...we'll all know that there really was NO issue, but Toyota essentially had to FIND something to appease NHTSA...
      • 5 Years Ago
      And it continues
        • 5 Years Ago
        I wanna see how the toyota defenders defend this one... "zomg only people in debt have the problem" right because if youre in debt, that automatically means everything you do is your fault and youre doing it as a hoax.

        Miller cautioned in his email that the automaker is not "protecting our customers by keeping this quiet. The time to hide on this one is over." Miller then went on to make absolutely clear that he was talking about unintended acceleration issues by adding "WE HAVE A tendency for MECHANICAL failure in accelerator pedals."

      • 5 Years Ago
      I wish they would "come clean" on the fact that hybrids shouldn't be MORE expensive than their gas counterparts considering the real reason people buy hybrids is to save money not spend 5-10K more. They need to stop ripping people off. Yeah ok hybrid WERE new tech so a higher price tag was justified. Not anymore. They need to stop overcharging for these heavier pieces of crap. 5-10K buys a lot of gas. MAKE THE CAR LIGHTER!!! STOP ADDING HYBRID WEIGHT!

      On a side note, touchscreens are not an "upgrade". Also how can you charge THAT MUCH for a non portable nav system??!!! Ripoff!! Come clean Toyota!
        • 5 Years Ago
        • 5 Years Ago
        As his ID suggests, He must think cars (and hybrids)are made very simple

        Do you know how much LG Chemical and other Korean-Japanese companies charge for their hybrid vehicle purpose Nickel or Lithium batteries per unit? More than what your salary's worth every month. BTW, simple math here as your comment about "MAKE HYBRID LIGHTER!!!": Normal Car + Huge Battery + Electric Motor > Non-Hybrid Car in weight.

      • 5 Years Ago
      Wow. That's a pretty damning email.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Cover up being uncovered.
      • 5 Years Ago
      It's a shame this guy became a pariah for speaking out. In a company with integrity, he would be viewed as an asset. His email was in the company's best interest. Had they heeded his warning Toyota could have made this a far less costly mistake, both financially and in terms of PR/goodwill. They chose to ignore sound advice and are paying for it. If they were smart, they would ask him to un-retire. Clearly they need people like this.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Although the article is just showing the corporate mentality -- including retiring when the new came out -- the real issue developing the the purpose of the regulator; which was obviously in bed with Toyota.

      The regulators are supposed to be a "industry educated" middle conduit where public interest is balanced with the realities of the situation at hand (which includes the costs to fix it, making awareness, etc). It is hard because regulators can easily become "too friendly" with those they are supposed to mediate a solution with. The opposite can happen where regulations can effect the spirit of the product -- ie ugly headlights, bumpers etc.

      If you think of the Airbus, when they first came out .. lots of gremblins. If they grounded the planes it would have put them out of business. So they reduced the problem with the planes they had as much as possible, made people all aware, and made maintenance adjustments (inspections etc). So it ended up they were safe planes, but the design was imperfect. So they modified the design in new planes, and today the problems are pretty much gone.

      In this case, Toyota had a BIG problem like Airbus; but they decided to work with the regulator (maybe via disinformation) to make sure no one found out about it. So the whole awareness aspect vanished. I bet the dealers probably all knew about it -- but they would also not tell anyone (even today) -- good sales are often based on controlling the information the customer hears -- making sure it matches up to the image they have in their heads (fantacy often, but that is what you get with emotion based sales).

      Toyota customers have been living in the rabbit hole -- some amazingly are still there!
      • 5 Years Ago
      This only affirms what automotive enthusiasts and fair-minded Americans knew all along, that Toyota is a participant in the criminal cabal known as Japan, Inc., and is bent on destroying American lives. Of course, it takes a Western executive in that organization to point out the painfully obvious to that callous group. The Japanese executives, with their thorough lack of honor and decency, would rather cover up their short cuts for the sake of expediency.

      Americans deserve better.
      • 5 Years Ago
      If anyone thinks this is the end of the lies and deception that Toyota has foisted on the American consumer, think again. Toyota is a foreign company that has wiggled it's way into our economy and doesn't give a damn about it's customers and is solely focused on profits, which this email proves. I applaud the continued downfall of this corrupt company. Bravo!
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm jealous of the Steven Seagal mini-mullet.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Maybe after the hundreds of millions in lost lawsuits sinks in Toyota will fire all the execs that got that email and install execs that will not ignore any future safety elephants in the room.

      Time will tell.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Give it a rest. Toyota has paid their dept to society, and likely learned their lesson (that they can't act like the US government with impunity), and should be allowed to get back to designing and building cars. This is getting to be really oooooold news. Just leave it to the ambulance chasers to extract revenge.
        • 5 Years Ago
        As for buying a Toyota, if I really need a car I can depend on, I would certainly consider buying a Toyota. As for beeing a jackass, I'll take that as a compliment from YOU!
        • 5 Years Ago
        If I need a really dependable car, I will at least consider a Toyota. As for being a Jackass, (which is fair) I think I will take that as a compliment from YOU!
        • 5 Years Ago
        I remember some said the same thing about the Watergate investigations and look where they led...

        When the revelations of greed and cover-up end and the whole truth has come out, then it's time to move on. Not before.
        • 5 Years Ago
        nope, they simply havent come clean this isnt over as much as you want it to be, and I'm glad, they were overly greedy with gaining marketshare at the cost of the customer so they can go F themselves, which is exactly what is happening. I would never treat one of my customers that way, so yeah Im all for hearing them have problems.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The rule is: You better come clean quickly when you are not going to be able to cover it up. All businesses live by this.
        • 5 Years Ago
        This line says it all: "Toyota wasn't acting in the best interest of its extremely loyal customers."

        I like the way you are so self assured and confident in your statement: "Toyota has paid their dept to society, and likely learned their lesson" - yep, they :likely" learned their lesson.

        Misc comments:
        (1) I will NEVER buy a Toyota.
        (2) You are a Jacka$$
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