DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Toyota’s been fined again for a familiar problem: not reporting recalls quickly enough to government regulators and for delaying a safety recall.
“It is clear that the government is giving Toyota another hard slap on the wrist,” says Edmunds.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs.
The $17.4 million fine from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is for a June recall that was similar to Toyota’s issues a few years back: pedals stuck under the floor mats of Toyota’s Lexus luxury brand. About 154,000 of the 2010 Lexus Rx 350s and RX 450h models were recalled because the driver’s-side floor mats can trap the gas pedal and cause the vehicles to speed up without warning. The problem was similar to troubles from 2010 that prompted a series of embarrassing safety recalls by the company.
But, Krebs sees this fine indicating that the government is serious about enforcing new rules that require car companies to release safety information quickly.
“This is sending a messaage to Toyota and all manufacturers, ‘Don’t mess around, take action right away!”
Toyota has recalled more than 14 million vehicles globally to fix sticky gas pedals and floor mats. The recalls tarnished the company’s sterling reputation for reliability and cut into sales. Recently its sales have rebounded as it appeared to put the safety problems in the rear-view mirror.
Toyota did not admit guilt in the most recent case, but the company said earlier it felt that it responded properly.
“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, the company’s chief quality officer, said in a statement. A spokesman at the Toyota’s U.S. offices in Torrance, Calif., did not answer further questions.
As part of the deal, Toyota has agreed to make internal changes. Back in 2010, Toyota paid three separate fines, totaling $48.8 million.
Next year, the maximum fine doubles to $35 million. But lost sales and lost goodwill could cost automakers even more.
In the wake of the new rules, car companies have been announcing more recalls, and ordering them faster than before.
“If you have a problem with a vehicle, you need to take action–a full recall, or some other action–right away,”says Krebs. “You cannot let these build up over a long period of time, or they will get you with a big fine.”
WWJ AutoBeat Reporter and The Associated Press contributed to this story.