Mitsubishi execs plead not guilty to truck defect cover-ups

TOKYO, (Sept. 1, 2004) — Three former Mitsubishi Motors executives pleaded not guilty today to falsifying data on a vehicle defect that caused a wheel to fly off a truck and kill a pedestrian.

Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp. — owned 65 per cent by DaimlerChrysler and 20 per cent by Mitsubishi Motors — admitted in March that a design defect had been responsible for more than 50 truck accidents since 1992 and recalled 112,000 trucks in Japan. In 2002, a woman was killed and her two sons injured by a flying wheel that came loose from a Fuso truck.

Prior to the company’s recent admission, the Japanese truckmaker had blamed the defects on improper maintenance practices by the trucks’ customers.

The company and three executives — Takashi Usami, former chairman of Mitsubishi Fuso & Bus Corp.; and former Mitsubishi executives Akio Hanawa and Tadashi Koshikawa — are charged with falsifying a report made to the Transport Ministry in February 2002 to conceal design flaws in Mitsubishi wheel hubs.

Mitsubishi president Hideyasu Tagaya said the company would stand by whatever claims the three other defendants made in court, Associated Press reports.

Meanwhile, former Mitsubishi Motors President Katsuhiko Kawasoe and other former officials face charges of professional negligence resulting in death in separate court proceedings. In that case a truck driver was killed after smashing into a building when the brakes on his Mitsubishi truck failed.

DaimlerChrysler has spent about $1.26 billion last year for its controlling stake in Mitsubishi Fuso. Daimler acquired a 43 per cent stake at that time and another 22 per cent earlier this year.

While the truckmaker is still profitable for DaimlerChrysler — which also owns Freightliner, Sterling, and Western Star truck brands in North America, as well as Detroit Diesel — sales in Asia have taken a hit since the defect controversy erupted.

— with files from Associated Press

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