Toyota to Pay $32.4 Million in Extra Fines Over Recalls

The company said it would pay the fines without admitting any violation of its obligations under the U.S. Safety Act.

$32.4 million in extra fines, officials said on Dec. 20. The assessments were related to the timeliness of Toyota recalls issued in 2005 over potential concerns with steering relay rods, and others from 2007 to early 2010 to address the possibility of pedals getting trapped by floor mats.

Out of the total new penalties, a $16.375 million fine was tied to an investigation completed on Dec. 21 over Toyota's recall of nearly five million vehicles with accelerator pedals that can become entrapped by floor mats, the Department of Transportation said. It said the company had failed to report a known safety defect within five days, as required by law.

Another $16.05 million fine stems from an NHTSA probe into whether the automaker properly notified the agency of a safety defect in several Toyota models in 2004 and 2005 that could result in the loss of steering control. The defect led to a 2004 recall in Japan for Hilux trucks that Toyota initially said did not extend to US models. In 2005, Toyota informed NHTSA that the steering relay rod defect was present in several models sold in the United States and conducted a recall for nearly one million vehicles.

NHTSA said it learned in May of complaints from U.S. consumers and others that Toyota had not disclosed additional information.

The company said it would pay the fines without admitting any violation of its obligations under the US Safety Act.

"Toyota is pleased to have resolved these legacy issues related to the timeliness of prior recalls dating back to 2005," said Steve St. Angelo, Toyota's chief quality officer for North America. "These agreements are an opportunity to turn the page to an even more constructive relationship with NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and focus even more on listening to our customers and meeting their high expectations for safe and reliable vehicles."

"Safety is our top priority and we take our responsibility to protect consumers seriously... I am pleased that Toyota agreed to pay the maximum possible penalty and I expect Toyota to work cooperatively in the future to ensure consumers' safety," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Analysts say Toyota has become more aggressive in catching possible defects as part of a campaign to improve its consumer image, but warn that continued frequent recalls damage its branding as a quality carmaker. The automaker has added an extra four weeks to new vehicle testing, sped up its decision-making process and appointed regional quality control officers.

Only a week ago, Toyota recalled some 94,000 of its 2011 Sienna minivans in the United States to replace a brake bracket that could get stuck.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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