Japanese auto major Toyota Motor Corp is facing penalties of up to $16.4 million in the US for delaying a mass recall of the vehicles with defective accelerator pedals, which, the regulators said, the company was aware of.
The civil penalty, the largest sought by the US Department of Transportation, is the first official finding that the world's largest automaker violated US safety regulations. The automaker can appeal the penalty.
According to US transportation secretary Ray LaHood, the US government now has proof that Toyota failed to live up to its legal obligations and worse they hid the dangerous defect in full knowledge from US officials and failed to take action to protect millions of drivers and their families.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which continues to investigate the Toyota recalls, including one in October 2009 for floor mats that caused gas pedals to jam resulting in uncontrolled acceleration, the amount of the levies might increase.
Though Toyota did not directly address the issue, it said steps had been taken to improve communications about safety issues with both regulators and customers.
With more than 135 lawsuits filed in US courts since the recalls, the company's reputation for quality has been dented.
According to industry analysts, Toyota would likely appeal the fine.
Toyota, they add, would do whatever it took because of what it might lead to. They say the fine will lead to a class action lawsuit.
Toyota can respond within two weeks.