• Kyodo

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Quality control experts at Mitsubishi Motors Corp. may have suspected that inadequate component strength was to blame when the first accident involving a wheel detaching from a Mitsubishi truck was reported in 1992, police sources said Friday.

Investigators suspect that Takashi Usami, a former Mitsubishi Motors official in charge of large-vehicle operations, may have been aware that company quality control experts were concerned about the possibility of a defective component, they said.

Usami was arrested Thursday, along with six other former Mitsubishi Motors officials, over an accident in 2002 in which a wheel came off a Mitsubishi trailer truck, hitting and killing a woman and injuring her two children.

He was vice president of the large-vehicle division at the time of the accident.

According to investigators, the first accident in which a wheel detached from a large vehicle as a result of a damaged hub was reported in June 199. The accident in question involved a refrigerator truck.

After the accident, Mitsubishi Motors held a conference attended chiefly by in-house quality control experts, sources said.

During the meeting, some participants said the hubs were possibly too weak to support the wheels.

The same point was also raised at an internal meeting after a similar accident involving a bus in Hiroshima in June 1999, the sources said.

Following this accident, MMC told the then Transport Ministry that the accident was caused by inadequate maintenance, fearing that a product recall would tarnish the company’s image. At the time of the 1992 accident, Usami headed MMC’s truck and bus technical center. He later became vice chief of the truck and bus development division.

In January 2003, MMC spun off its large vehicle division as Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp. Usami was the first chairman of Mitsubishi Fuso, though he resigned April 16 over a long delay in recalling large vehicles with faulty hubs.

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