Emerging reports this morning suggest that Toyota may have known about its sticking accelerator pedal problem, and warned its European distributors, long before disclosing the problem to U.S. regulators.
The Associated Press reports, “Concerns about sticking gas pedals and complaints from Toyota owners in the U.S. were rising at the end of 2009.” Documents obtained by the A.P. “show that weeks earlier, on Sept. 29, its European division issued technical information ‘identifying a production improvement and repair procedure to address complaints by customers in those countries of sticking accelerator pedals, sudden rpm increase and/or sudden vehicle acceleration.’”
The company faces a fine of $16.4 million – the largest ever levied against an automaker in the U.S. – for allegedly failing to disclose knowledge of the defect to U.S. auto safety investigators in a timely fashion. The New York Times explains, “The company did not recall vehicles in the United States because of accelerator problem until January." However, in announcing the fine, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, “said that repair procedures sent by Toyota to its Canadian operation as well as distributors in 31 European countries last Sept. 29 shows that the company knew about the issue much earlier.”
The lapse has added to a climate of distrust between U.S. auto regulators and the Japanese company. The AP reports, “LaHood told reporters in Chicago on Tuesday that he wouldn't be surprised if a review of documents from Toyota Motor Corp. uncovered additional safety lapses by the Japanese automaker.”
Toyota has two weeks to decide whether to contest the fine. It’s not a simple question. While $16.4 million may seem like a pittance to the world’s largest automaker, accepting the fine might have other consequences. In a separate story, the AP explains, “There could be further penalties under continuing federal investigations. The Japanese automaker faces private lawsuits seeking many millions more.” Accepting the fine, some analysts say, could be construed as an admission of guilt, making those lawsuits more likely to go against the company.
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