Toyota is facing the NHTSA's maximum penalty of $16.375 million, but the real price could be a fresh slew of bad press.
Specifically, the NHTSA has a problem with Toyota failing to tell the agency about the "sticky pedal" problem for at least four months. This maximum fine might also be taken as notice to all other automakers doing business that the NHTSA now has more authority.
“We now have proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Worse 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.”
Keep your eyes on this space, as this issue is far from over. The NHTSA is reportedly trying to determine whether Toyota's actions require additional penalties. With Toyota submitting 70,000 pages of information to the agency, it's anyone's guess how long it will be before further penalties are assessed.
In the meantime, Toyota has extended its record incentives through April. Will that and the newly created North American Quality Task Force be enough to stop the flow of negative press about the company? We'll see.
Toyota's response to the NHTSA:
While we have not yet received their letter, we understand that NHTSA has taken a position on this recall. We have already taken a number of important steps to improve our communications with regulators and customers on safety-related matters as part of our strengthened overall commitment to quality assurance. These include the appointment of a new Chief Quality Officer for North America and a greater role for the region in making safety-related decisions.
Source: NHTSA, Toyota