After nearly a year of major recalls, odd terminology, a congressional hearing and possible hoaxes, Toyota Motor Corp., has arguably received the most difficult jolt of its current crisis. The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is seeking the maximum civil fine of $16.4 million against the Japanese automaker.
According to documents obtained from Toyota, NHTSA detailed in a press release the automaker knew some of its cars had sticky accelerator pedals since September 2009 and failed to notify the agency for more than four months.
Under federal regulations, automakers are required to inform the agency within five days of determining a safety defect exists in one of its products.
“We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations,” said Secretary LaHood. “Worse yet, they knowingly hid a dangerous defect for months from U.S. officials and did not take action to protect millions of drivers and their families. For those reasons, we are seeking the maximum penalty possible under current laws.”
NHTSA is still investigating to see if Toyota committed any additional violations that may warrant more penalties, the agency said. Under federal regulations, $16.4 million is the most an automaker can be fined for a single violation.
Several Toyota brands, Camry to Prius, Corolla to Lexus, have been recalled with the total surpassing eight million units world wide. The problems have included ” “sticky gas pedal,” “floormat infringement” and “unitended acceleration.”
In recent weeks, several Toyota Prius owners around the country have reported mechanical issues with vehicles and have experienced near catastrophe, including uncontrollable speeds in myriad driving circumstances. Not all of the incidents have proven completely reliable accounts.
General Motors was levied a $3 million in 2004 for failing to promptly address a windshield wiper issue. The fine was negotiated to $1 million, the largest in automotive history.
“While we have not yet received their letter, we understand that NHTSA has taken a position on this recall,” Toyota responded in a release. “We have already taken a number of important steps to improve our communications with regulators and customers on safety-related matters as part of our strengthened overall commitment to quality assurance.
“These include the appointment of a new chief quality officer for North America and a greater role for the region in making safety-related decisions.”