Toyota to pay record $16.4m fine over slow response to pedal problems

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The Independent Online

Toyota has agreed to pay a record $16.4m (£10.7m) fine in the US over claims that the Japanese car manufacturer delayed publicising the problems with accelerator pedals in some of its models.

Car-makers are supposed to report safety issues with their vehicles to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) within five days. But it was more than four months before Toyota approached the body about a flaw which could cause accelerator pedals to stick down. By not appealing against the fine, Toyota has admitted liability for its failure to report, according to the NHTSA.

"Toyota has accepted responsibility for violating its legal obligations to report any defects promptly," said Ray LaHood, the US transport secretary. "By failing to report known safety problems as it is required to do under the law, Toyota put consumers at risk."

The company, once famed for the safety and quality of its cars, has been forced to recall more than 8 million vehicles worldwide since January – 2.3 million of them in the US. And sticking accelerator pedals have not been the only faults. The car-maker has been hit by technical issues such as floor mats trapping foot pedals, unintended acceleration and braking problems in its world-leading hybrid, the Toyota Prius.

The fine is the largest ever levied against a car-maker in the US and must be paid by 5 May. However, the payment will not absolve Toyota of liability in the string of legal cases it faces, including at least 180 class-action suits and another 57 individual claims of injury or death caused by uncontrolled acceleration.

It may also face further fines following a second investigation of claims that it took six weeks to recall models in which accelerator pedals were prone to becoming trapped by floor mats.

And US legislators have called a second congressional hearing next month to investigate why electronics problems caused uncontrollable acceleration in some Toyotas. The head of the company's US sales arm, Jim Lentz, has been summoned to attend. The first such hearing on Capitol Hill in February saw the company's chief executive, Akio Toyoda, make an abject apology before flying to Beijing to repeat the gesture to the Chinese government. Despite repeated pledges to improve its record, Toyota's problems are still far from over.

It has been forced to recall 870,000 of its Sienna minivans because of corrosion caused by road salt in cold climates. It is feared that rusting cables could allow the Sienna's spare tyre to drop off into the road. And last week, Toyota suspended sales of the Lexus GX460 in the US after a consumer magazine reported that it might be prone to rolling over.

Analysts have predicted the wave of recalls could cost Toyota as much as $5bn in litigation and lost business.

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