Toyota hurriedly ordered recalls of nearly 10,000 Lexus SUVs for possible rollover dangers Monday and agreed to a record $16.4 million fine for a slow response in its broader earlier recall, scrambling to fix safety worries that threaten the Japanese auto giant’s reputation.
The fine, the maximum under law, could hurt Toyota Motor Corp.’s image more than its financial bottom line: The penalty is the equivalent of a little more than $2 for every vehicle the company sold around the globe in 2009. And analysts said it would have little impact on dozens of private lawsuits, which have been combined before a federal judge in Santa Ana, Calif.
“In the court of public opinion, paying the fine speaks volumes. But at the end of the day, the fines are simply background noise in terms of the civil litigation,” said Richard Arsenault, a plaintiff’s attorney in Alexandria, La. “What’s really important are the facts that were the catalyst for the fines.”
Addressing new safety concerns, Toyota said it would recall all 9,400 of the 2010 Lexus GX 460s that went on sale in late December – 5,600 that have been sold and 3,800 still at dealers or elsewhere in the distribution pipeline. The announcement came less than a week after Consumer Reports issued a warning about the SUVs, a sharp contrast to the government’s contention that Toyota took four months to order its huge recall of other models over sticking gas pedals.