Mitsubishi Motors Corp. on Wednesday admitted its involvement in yet another vehicle defect coverup.

The ailing automaker said it had failed to recall in 2000 about 164,000 vehicles with defective parts that should have been subject to recalls.

MMC said it individually repaired some of the vehicles in question between 1993 and 1997 instead of recalling them, adding that it will recall them as soon as possible.

A total of 17 models — including the Pajero, the Lancer, the Galant, the Mirage and the Sigma — produced between 1992 and 1997 are subject to the recall. The Sigma vehicles have been used as police cars, it said.

“We apologize for the delay of issuing recalls that should have been done in the past and for betraying consumers’ trust in the country’s recall system,” MMC Chairman and President Yoichiro Okazaki told a news conference in Tokyo.

The company admitted that its conduct was a violation of the Road Trucking Vehicle Law.

Mitsubishi said the recall would likely cost 2.5 billion yen.

Okazaki said that, immediately after he became chairman and president of MMC on April 30, he set up a special task force headed by Mitsuo Hashimoto, executive general manager of the research and development office, and started reviewing all available information dating back to March 1993 pertaining to vehicles that were individually repaired by the firm.

Among the 92 cases involving individual repair, 26 cases involved vehicles that should have been recalled, it said. Thus far, no injuries or accidents have been reported from those cases, it added.

Okazaki said the 164,000 vehicles should have been recalled in 2000, when MMC was found to have systematically concealed customer complaints for 30 years.

MMC was indicted and former executive officers were arrested.

In the wake of the 2000 recall coverup scandal, MMC conducted an investigation to detect other cases of defect coverups and reviewed past cases in which vehicles were individually repaired, but only back to April 1998.

MMC officials said they are not sure why the company failed to review all the cases before April 1998.

MMC was told to submit all the documents to authorities including the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry when it was found to be neglecting recalls in 2000. One of the documents showed that there were cases before April 1998 in which the company individually repaired vehicles.

But the company somehow got away with the cases that actually required recalls, company officials said.

Of the 164,000 vehicles, some 7,300 vehicles exported overseas will be covered by the recall.

MMC, which established Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp. in January 2003, when it spun off its truck and bus division, has been under fire for delaying recalls of large vehicles involved in a series of accidents, including two fatalities.

Design flaws in wheel hubs and clutch housings were systematically concealed instead of being subjected to recalls.

Employees punished

Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Co. said Wednesday it has punished 29 employees in connection with coverups of vehicle defects that caused a series of accidents, including two fatalities.

The names of only two of those punished were disclosed — operating officers Hisashi Watanabe and Mikiya Ota.

Other details, including how the employees were specifically involved in the alleged wrongdoings, were also withheld.

According to Mitsubishi Fuso, the salaries of Watanabe and Ota will be cut by 30 percent for three months.

Two executive general managers and two senior managers were suspended from work for 5 days, while the salaries of an executive general manager and three senior managers were cut by 50 percent for one day, according to the truck and bus maker.

Mitsubishi Fuso reprimanded three senior managers, 16 managers and section chiefs, ordering each of them to submit a letter of apology.

The truck and bus maker said these actions are in line with the Labor Standards Law.

Of those punished, some were involved in recalls tied to both defective wheel hubs and defective clutch housings, company officials said.

Mitsubishi Fuso said it considered leniency in meting out the punishments, given that the recall problems, as noted by company President Wilfried Porth last month, were rooted in a “corporate culture of concealment.”

Mitsubishi Fuso, spun off from Mitsubishi Motors in 2003, was forced to issue two major recalls in the past three months: a recall in March over defective wheel hubs and a recall in May over faulty clutches.

Mitsubishi’s failure to declare the defects earlier has been blamed for two fatal accidents — one in Yokohama in January 2002 and another in Yamaguchi in October the same year.