Toyota Fined $16.4 Million for Brake Pedal Fiasco

Toyota will pay the government a $16.4 fine for failing to disclose its cars’ pedal problems in a timely manner. Legally, automakers are required to recall a car five days after finding a defect. According to regulators, Toyota waited months.

It’s the biggest automaker fine in US history. The New York Times reports:

This penalty involves the “sticky pedal” and “slow to return pedal” defects that led to Toyota’s recall of about 2.3 million vehicles in the United States in late January. Some 8 million cars were recalled worldwide.

The fine is the maximum amount allowed by law. If not for that cap, Toyota could have been ordered to pay $13.8 billion instead — $6,000 for each of 2.3 million vehicles sold with defective pedals — the agency’s chief counsel told the company in a letter this month.

The letter also said the agency was considering a second $16.4 million fine against Toyota, based on evidence suggesting the pedals might have had two separate defects. An investigation into the company’s November recall of 5.4 million vehicles, to fix pedals that are susceptible to getting trapped under the floor mat, also could result in additional fines.

In mid-January, five days before the sticking pedal recall began, an American Toyota executive sent an e-mail message to colleagues in Japan urging them to “come clean” about the defective pedals. The company issued a recall after meeting with federal regulators Jan. 19.

Note to execs: It’s probably not the smartest move to send an email with the words “come clean” in it–ever.

The fines are also just the beginning. Toyota also faces billions of dollars in civil suits from crash victims and their relatives, writes the Times. The SEC and Justice Department are also investigating the company. It will be some time before Toyota’s pain is over in the US.