Back in June, Toyota added the 2010 Lexus RX to a long list of vehicles that were recalled due to problems with accelerator pedals sticking beneath floor mats.
That was unusual because Toyota launched the recall more than two years earlier, in the winter of 2010. To the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2010 RX seemed a little late to the party.
In fact, NHTSA found Toyota's addition of the RX so late that it slapped the automaker with a fine -- a fine that Toyota has now agreed to pay.
In a very short statement released today, the automaker says:
"Toyota has agreed to make a payment of $17.35 million to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to settle claims related to the timeliness of its June 2012 recall to address the potential for accelerator pedal entrapment caused by unsecured or incompatible driver’s side floor mat in the 2010 Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h, without admitting to any violation of its obligations under the U.S. Safety Act."
Toyota's chief quality officer for North America, Ray Tanguay, says that the automaker "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."
NHTSA released a slightly longer, slightly more glowing press release on its own website:
"Toyota Motor Corporation has agreed to pay $17.35 million, the maximum fine allowable under the law, in response to the agency's assertion that the automaker failed to report a safety defect to the federal government in a timely manner. This action represents the single highest civil penalty amount ever paid to NHTSA for violations stemming from a recall." [emphasis added]
According to that release, NHTSA began seeing a trend of pedal entrapment problems on Lexus vehicles earlier this year. When it contacted Toyota about the problem in May, the automaker subsequently responded (rather sheepishly, we imagine) that it had noted 63 incidents of possible pedal entrapment on 2010 RX vehicles since calendar year 2009. The RX recall began in June.
NHTSA says that in addition to paying the hefty penalty, Toyota has also agreed to make internal changes, which should help identify flaws and launch recalls in a more timely fashion.
As you might recall, this isn't Toyota's first time to be charged with civil penalties: just two years ago, in 2010, the automaker paid NHTSA a whopping $48.8 million as a result of three separate investigations into pedal entrapment, "sticky" pedals, and steering rod flaws.
Of today's announcements, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, "I expect Toyota to rigorously reinforce its commitment to adhering to United States safety regulations." We'll keep you posted on that.