Crain News Service and wire reports
WASHINGTON (Dec. 18, 2012) — Toyota Motor Corp. has been ordered to pay a record fine of $17.4 million for failing to report a safety defect to the U.S. government in a timely manner, the U.S. Department of Transportation said.
The fine is a record civil penalty for a single violation by an auto maker and the maximum amount the department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) can assess, government regulators said Dec. 18.
The June 2012 recall addressed the potential for accelerator pedal entrapment caused by unsecured or incompatible driver's side floor mat in the 2010 Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h crossovers, Toyota said.
"Safety is our highest priority," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "With today's announcement, I expect Toyota to rigorously reinforce its commitment to adhering to United States safety regulations."
The auto maker did not admit to any violation of its obligations under the U.S. Safety Act, the company said in a statement.
"We agreed to this settlement in order to avoid a time-consuming dispute and to focus fully on our shared commitment with NHTSA to keep drivers safe," Ray Tanguay, chief quality officer of Toyota North America, said in the statement.
"Toyota is dedicated to the safety of our customers, and we continue to strengthen our data collection and evaluation process to ensure we are prepared to take swift action to meet customers' needs," Mr. Tanguay's statement continued.
Toyota has recalled more than 14 million vehicles globally in recent years to fix sticky gas pedals and floor mats.
NHTSA said it contacted Toyota about the latest issue in May this year after it noticed a trend in vehicle owner questionnaires.
Toyota advised NHTSA a month later that it was aware of 63 alleged incidents and said it would recall 154,036 Lexus RX 350s as well as 2010 RX 450h vehicles to address the defect.
Federal law requires auto makers to notify NHTSA within five business days of determining that a safety defect exists and to conduct a recall.
The maximum fine NHTSA can assess for reporting violations will double to $35 million next year.
Toyota was fined a total of $48.8 million in civil penalties in 2010 as a result of three separate investigations into its handling of auto recalls.
In 2010, the company paid two $16.4 million fines and one $16 million fine, all for reporting violations. NHTSA said at the time that Toyota didn't report problems with sticking gas pedals in a timely manner, nor did it report problems with floor mats trapping gas pedals.
Toyota also told NHTSA that a recall of commercial trucks in Japan for a steering problem did not affect U.S. vehicles. But a year later, the company recalled similar vehicles in the U.S.
This story was compiled from Reuters and Bloomberg reports as well as by reporters for Automotive News, a Detroit-based companion publication of Tire Business.