By Gabe Nelson, Crain News Service
WASHINGTON (Aug. 1, 2013) — Ford Motor Co. has reached a settlement with U.S. auto safety regulators over a recall of older Escapes last year.
The auto maker agreed to pay the maximum $17.35 million fine to resolve claims that it took too long to notify its customers of a defect.
Last August, Ford recalled about 423,000 vehicles from model years 2001 through 2004 in the U.S. because of a defect that could cause the gas pedal to remain pressed down even after a driver lifted his or her foot. The recall covered Escapes with 3.0-liter V6 engines and speed control.
Regulators felt that the recall "may have been untimely," and thus could have justified an enforcement action, according to a settlement document with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The Ford-NHTSA settlement documents also mention the Escape's sibling, the Mazda Tribute. Last year Mazda followed Ford and recalled 217,000 Tributes from the 2001-2006 and 2008 model years. It didn't make the Tribute in 2007. It was not immediately clear today if Mazda would also face fines and a Mazda spokesman could not be reached for comment earlier today.
In agreeing to settle the case, Ford did not admit fault.
"We are absolutely committed to addressing potential vehicle issues and responding quickly for our customers," a Ford spokeswoman said in an emailed statement Aug. 1.
"We take the safety of our customers seriously and continuously evaluate our processes for improvements," she said. "While we are confident in our current processes for quickly identifying and addressing potential vehicle issues, Ford agreed to this settlement to avoid a lengthy dispute with the government."
Ford's penalty ties the largest single fine ever paid under U.S. auto safety law. Toyota Motor Corp. paid a $17.35 million fine in December to resolve claims that it failed to report a rash of gas pedals getting stuck under the floor mat in the Lexus RX 350 from model year 2010.
Toyota also paid three separate fines in 2010—totaling $48.8 million—for a series of recalls stemming from claims of unintended acceleration.
The Ford settlement was reported earlier today by The Wall Street Journal.
This report appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.