An executive at beleaguered auto giant, Toyota, had urged the firm to reveal its accelerator pedal problems, warning that failure to do so could result in serious business decline, said the Detroit News
Irv Miller, prior group vice president for environmental and public affairs for Toyota Motor Sales USA as recently as early this year, wrote in a January 16 email to Toyota officials in Japan that it was required to advise the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about its sticky accelerator pedals, reported the Detroit News.
“I hate to break this to you but WE HAVE a tendency for MECHANICAL failure in accelerator pedals of a certain manufacturer on certain models. We are not protecting our customers by keeping this quiet. The time to hide on this one is over,” quoted the Detroit News. In another email Miller wrote, “We better just hope that they can get NHTSA to work with us in coming with a workable solution that does not put us out of business,”
Now, the federal government is going after Toyota for the way in which it handled defective gas pedals and is seeking, said the Associated Press (AP) recently, $16.375 millionâ€”the maximum penalty allowed by lawâ€”from Toyota for failing to promptly notify the government about the pedals.
Since last fall, Toyota has recalled more than eight million vehicles worldwide for problems involving sudden acceleration. Toyota and the NHTSA have blamed speed control issues on defective floor mats and faulty gas pedals. In the U.S., five deaths have occurred in auto accidents involving the unintended acceleration of a Toyota or Lexus vehicle. Last August, a California Highway Patrol trooper and three members of his family were killed in such a crash in San Diego County. At least 47 other fatalities over the past decade alleged to be the result of Toyota-related unintended acceleration crashes are currently being investigated by the NHTSA.
The AP recently wrote that Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood said evidence shows that Toyota knew of the problem with sticking gas pedals in late September but did not issue a recall until late January. Auto manufacturers are legally obligated to notify NHTSA within five business days if they determine that a safety defect exists.
According to a Department of Transportation press release, the NHTSA learned, through documents obtained from Toyota, that the company knew of the sticky pedal defect since at least September 29, 2009. That day, Toyota issued repair procedures to their distributors in 31 European countries and Canada to address complaints of sticky accelerator pedals, sudden increases in engine RPM, and sudden vehicle acceleration. The documents also show that Toyota was aware that consumers in the U.S. were experiencing the same problems, the statement said.
â€œWe now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations,â€ LaHood said. â€œWorse yet, they knowingly hid a dangerous defect for months from U.S. officials and did not take action to protect millions of drivers and their families. For those reasons, we are seeking the maximum penalty possible under current laws.â€
The $16.375 million fine would be the largest civil penalty ever issued to an automaker by the government, the AP noted.