WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp. may be fined a second time for failing to alert federal regulators that gas pedals might stick and cause unintended acceleration, the U.S. auto-safety regulator said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced a record $16.4 million civil penalty against Toyota on April 5 for failing to disclose the defect. The agency told Toyota, the world's largest automaker, in a letter the same day that it may levy an additional fine on the same pedals.
Pedals supplied to Toyota by CTS Corp. of Elkhart, Ind., “had two separate defects that may require two separate remedies,” NHTSA said in the letter obtained Friday, which cited documents submitted by Toyota. A recall in January of 2.3 million vehicles involved pedals that were slow to return after being depressed as well as pedals on various vehicles that could become stuck.
Toyota, based in Toyota City, Japan, has recalled more than 8 million cars and trucks worldwide for two defects that may cause unintended acceleration and to adjust brakes. President Akio Toyoda has said the company his grandfather founded failed to share defect information adequately among regional units.
Martha Voss, a Washington-based spokeswoman for Toyota, didn't immediately respond to a telephone call seeking comment.
In the letter, NHTSA Chief Counsel O. Kevin Vincent said Toyota didn't meet with the regulator until Jan. 19, two days before beginning its U.S. recall of sticky pedals. Toyota knew about defects with sticky pedals in July 2006, according to a timeline dated March 24 that it submitted to NHTSA.
Were it not for a statute limiting the civil fine announced this week to $16.4 million, Toyota could have faced a potential penalty of as much as $13.8 billion, NHTSA said in the letter. That's based on each of the 2.3 million vehicles involved in the recall qualifying for a fine of as much as $6,000 each.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement this week that Toyota “knowingly hid a dangerous defect” by waiting four months to alert regulators to problems involving unintended acceleration and braking.
In the April 5 letter to Toyota, NHTSA said an official from the Japanese parent company who wasn't identified “inexplicably” told the carmaker's North American engineering unit on Oct. 21, 2009, not to make the same design change to CTS pedals for U.S. vehicles that was already under way for those in Europe.
Toyota has yet to provide a detailed response to NHTSA's assessment and LaHood's comments. The company has until April 19 to tell regulators whether it will accept or contest the $16.4 million fine.
The Detroit Free Press reported the NHTSA letter earlier yesterday.