TOKYO — A group of lawyers asked by Mitsubishi Motors Corp. to investigate mileage cheating at the Japanese automaker found a divided company that had set unrealistic goals, to which employees simply couldn't say, "No."
The Tokyo-based automaker acknowledged in April it had systematically falsified mileage data on its eK wagon and eK Space minicars, also produced for Nissan Motor Co.
The investigative panel said Tuesday such data falsifying went on for 25 years, and the wrongdoing was systematic, extensive and escalated with time.
The probe, which included interviews with more than 150 people, found the company lacked a system for checking on the team assigned to improve mileage.
The company said employees did not feel compelled to respect the law or fix the wrongdoing and each department was concerned only with its own performance.
"There was utterly no consciousness that the company must work as one to make and sell cars," the panel's 37-page report said.
The government earlier found Mitsubishi had overstated mileage on its vehicles by up to 16 percent.
Mitsubishi Motors, which makes the Outlander sport-utility vehicle and the i-MiEV electric car, struggled for years to win back consumer trust after an auto defects scandal in the early 2000s over cover-ups of problems such as failing brakes, faulty clutches and fuel tanks prone to falling off dating back to the 1970s.
Panel members, speaking at a news conference at the company's Tokyo headquarters, acknowledged their recommendations might not be followed, just as with past scandals.
Shortly after the problems were made public, Nissan announced it was taking a 34 percent stake in Mitsubishi to help its turn-around. The scandal surfaced after Nissan, which sold Mitsubishi minicars under its own brand, did its own tests and pointed out inconsistencies in data.
Mitsubishi has said it didn't lie about mileage on models sold overseas. The company is offering a cash rebate to customers in Japan who bought the vehicles for which it had reported inflated mileage, to make up for the extra gas.
Mitsubishi Chairman Osamu Masuko, who helped engineer the Nissan deal, reiterated an apology and promised the company will penalize managers found responsible for the cheating.
"We hope this will mark a new beginning for us as a manufacturer," he told reporters after the panel's findings were released.
Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama
Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/yuri-kageyama