• Kyodo


Kanagawa Prefectural Police searched Mitsubishi Motors Corp.’s headquarters in Tokyo and other related locations Friday over a January 2002 accident in Yokohama in which a woman was killed and her two sons injured by a wheel that came off a Mitsubishi-built semi-trailer.

Thirty-three other incidents involving wheels detaching from large Mitsubishi-made vehicles had been reported between June 1992 and the date of the accident, Jan. 10, 2002, according to an investigation.

Police suspect professional negligence on the part of Mitsubishi, which is roughly one-third owned by DaimlerChrysler AG. They allege that senior officials at the automaker failed to notify users or take proper remedial steps despite the relative frequency of these incidents.

Mitsubishi said 56 wheel detachments involving its vehicles had occurred as of the end of September. According to the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, no such incidents occurred on large vehicles made by other automakers.

In the fatal accident, the 140-kg left front-wheel wheel of a passing trailer detached and rolled some 50 meters before striking down 29-year-old Shiho Okamoto of Yamato, Kanagawa Prefecture, and injuring her two sons, who were walking on a sidewalk in Yokohama’s Seya Ward.

Investigators determined the accident was caused by a broken axle hub. Broken hubs were also blamed for the other detachment incidents, and Kanagawa police have asked the National Research Institute of Police Science to look into why the hubs broke.

But the manufacturer has denied the Yokohama accident was caused by a structural fault and instead blamed the truck users for poor maintenance and overloading of vehicles that lead to the hub breaking.

Twelve days after the accident, Mitsubishi Motors announced that it would offer free inspections of hub components, though it said it would charge a fee for their replacement in the event excessive wear was discovered.

But with such wear being found in some 16 percent of the vehicles inspected, the firm said in November it would offer replacements for free, saying there was a limit to the extent to which wheel detachments could be prevented through inspections.

The free replacements, which targeted roughly 90,000 vehicles, were thought to have cost the company some 8 billion yen.

Mitsubishi, which builds a broad range of vehicles, from minicars to big trucks, posted 3.8 trillion yen in sales in the year that ended March 31. It spun off its truck and bus division to set up Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp. in January.

The other locations searched Friday were Mitsubishi Fuso’s manufacturing base in Kawasaki and its research center in the town of Kitsuregawa, Tochi Prefecture.

Mitsubishi Fuso said in a statement that it takes the situation seriously and has taken steps since the Yokohama accident to ensure safety.

“We will continue to fully cooperate with the ongoing investigation,” the firm said.

Okamoto’s mother filed a damages suit against Mitsubishi and the state on March 5, seeking around 5.5 million yen, following another damages suit filed by Okamoto’s mother-in-law in September last year, seeking 73.5 million yen against the trucking company that owned the trailer.

Mitsubishi Motors was also searched by Tokyo police in 2000 over allegations that it hid from transport ministry authorities customer claims information that could have necessitated product recalls. The coverup led to the resignation of its president.

In May 2001, a court fined the firm and four of its former officials for falsifying the reports concerning recalls.

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