WASHINGTON — Five days before Toyota announced a massive recall, a U.S. public relations executive at the automaker warned colleagues in an internal e-mail: "We need to come clean" about accelerator problems, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press on Wednesday.
"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 e-mail on Jan. 16, 2010, 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.
The e-mail reveals deep concerns within the company's leadership that Toyota wasn't dealing with the safety problems effectively and could damage the automaker's sterling reputation for producing safe and reliable vehicles.
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."