Toyota to pay record US safety fine

USA Today has reported Toyota has agreed to pay a $17.35 million fine — the maximum currently allowed for a single violation — to settle federal allegations that it took too long to report problems that led to its June recall of 2010 Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h crossover SUVs.

The 154,036 Lexus SUVs, plus 10,565 Toyota Land Cruisers from the 2008 through 2011 model years added later, were recalled because the floor mat could trap the gas pedal, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration documents.

Toyota did not admit guilt in the settlement, but it is the fourth fine the company has paid in recent years over charges that it was not quick enough in reporting incidents and conducting recalls.

The earlier fines involved recalls for sticky gas pedals and gas pedal entrapment by floor mats that could lead to unintended acceleration, as well as for a steering rod issue that could result in the loss of steering control. Previous fines in 2010 totaled $48.8 million — one for $16 million and two for the then-maximum of $16.4 million.

The recalls of millions of vehicles worldwide for unintended acceleration — 10.2 million in the U.S. and 12.4 million worldwide, mostly in 2010 — seriously damaged Toyota’s reputation for quality. The maximum fine for reporting delays rises to $35 million next year under changes made in the wake of those recalls.

Toyota, in a separate statement, said it would make the payment “without admitting to any violation of its obligations under the US Safety Act”.

“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,” said Ray Tanguay, chief quality officer of Toyota North America.

The law gives an automaker five business days to report a safety defect to government regulators. NHTSA was investigating complaints alleging the latest mat problem in the Lexus SUVs and contacted Toyota on May 23. Toyota took until June 22 to report to NHTSA that it was aware of 63 possible incidents of floor mats trapping pedals.

“Safety is our highest priority,” 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.”

“This action represents the single highest civil penalty amount ever paid to NHTSA for violations stemming from a recall,” the NHTSA said.

“NHTSA takes its role seriously and expects manufacturers to inform them quickly of potential safety issues,” said Larry Dominique, executive vice president of auto data service “The Toyota fine is an example of ensuring manufacturers respect the process and notify NHTSA in a timely manner.”