The Detroit News has just published a quote that allegedly comes from a January 16 email from Toyota Motor Sales USA group vice president for environmental and public affairs Irv Miller to “company officials in Japan.” Miller’s quote reads:
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. We are not protecting our customers by keeping this quiet. The time to hide on this one is over. We better just hope that they can get NHTSA to work with us in coming with a workable solution that does not put us out of business.
The DetN says Toyota refused comment on the quote, but doesn’t disclose how it obtained the email. If we had to hazard a guess at the source of the email, we’d say that one of the legion of lawyers currently suing Toyota might know something about it [UPDATE: The Freep says “the e-mail was among the 70,000 pages of documents NHTSA has collected as part of its investigation”]. Several lawyers are already gloating to Automotive News [sub] that NHTSA’s decision to pursue the maximum fine for Toyota’s unintended acceleration problem will help their cases (though this is hardly guaranteed), and they are desperately seeking any kind of evidence of a Toyota coverup. Meanwhile, Toyota’s UA-related recalls aren’t even over yet, as Reuters reports that the world’s largest automaker has only just recalled 13,000 Camrys from the Korean market. But considering that GM won’t have the much-hyped brake-override “failsafe” for unintended acceleration on all of its vehicles until 2012 [via AN [sub]], it will be tough to paint Toyota as being a complete outlier on automotive safety. In fact, the only thing that seems certain about this story is that there are million of reasons for lawyers and reporters to keep chipping away at a phenomenon that seems to largely have been a product of operator error.