WASHINGTON -- Ford Motor Co. reached a settlement with U.S. auto safety regulators in June over a recall of older Escapes last year and paid the maximum $17.35 million fine to resolve claims that the automaker took too long to notify its customers of a defect.
Last August, Ford recalled about 423,000 vehicles from model years 2001 through 2004 model years in the United States because of a defect that could cause the gas pedal to remain pressed down even after the driver lifted their foot. The recall covered Escapes with 3.0-liter V6 engines and speed control.
Regulators felt that the recall "may have been untimely," and thus could have justified an enforcement action, according to a settlement document with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Ford-NHTSA settlement documents, dated June 28, also mention the Escape's sibling, the Mazda Tribute. Last year Mazda followed Ford and recalled 217,000 Tributes from the 2001-2006 and 2008 model years. It didn't make the Tribute in 2007.
A Mazda spokesman said the company was not involved in the settlement between Ford and NHTSA.
"We are unaware of a fine directed towards Mazda, but will, as always, work closely with NHTSA," the spokesman said.
In agreeing to settle the case, Ford did not admit fault.
"We are absolutely committed to addressing potential vehicle issues and responding quickly for our customers," a Ford spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement today.
"We take the safety of our customers seriously and continuously evaluate our processes for improvements. While we are confident in our current processes for quickly identifying and addressing potential vehicle issues, Ford agreed to this settlement to avoid a lengthy dispute with the government."
Ford's penalty, which was paid on July 26, ties the largest single fine ever paid under U.S. auto safety law.
"If there was ever a company that deserved a civil penalty for failing to do a timely recall, it was Ford," Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety and a longtime industry safety advocate, said in a statement.
"The only unknown is how many people died because Ford failed to do this recall in 2005. The Center is very happy to see the agency impose this penalty on Ford as it sends a strong message not only to Ford but also to other auto companies to obey the law."
Toyota paid a $17.35 million fine in December to resolve claims that it failed to report a rash of gas pedals getting stuck under the floor mat in the Lexus RX 350 from model year 2010.
Toyota also paid three separate fines in 2010, totaling $48.8 million, for a series of recalls stemming from claims of unintended acceleration.
The settlement was reported earlier today by The Wall Street Journal.
Ryan Beene and Philip Nussel contributed to this report.
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