DETROIT – The U.S. government has slapped Toyota Motor Corp. with a record $17.4 million fine for failing once again to quickly report problems to federal regulators and for delaying a safety recall.
The fine from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency that monitors vehicle safety, is the maximum allowed by law. It's the fourth fine levied against Toyota in the past two years for similar infractions, and it's the largest single fine ever assessed against a car company over safety defects. In 2010, Toyota paid a total of $48.8 million in fines for three violations.
The latest infraction raises questions about whether the fines are big enough to deter automakers that withhold information from NHTSA, and whether the government agency can do enough to stop repeat offenses. The fine, announced Tuesday, is a tiny fraction of Toyota's earnings. The company, which this year regained its position as the world's biggest automaker, posted a $3.2 billion profit in the third quarter alone.
Toyota said it agreed to pay the penalty without admitting any violation of the law. It also pledged to strengthen data collection and evaluation to make sure it takes action more quickly.
The latest fine stems from a June recall of SUVs from 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.