NHTSA: Toyota may have withheld recall info

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is launching an investigation into whether Toyota Motor Co. delayed telling investigators in 2005 that a known defect on compact trucks in Japan was also a problem in the United States.

Toyota (TM) later recalled the trucks in the U.S. for a steering relay rod that was prone to cracking.

The automaker had recalled trucks in Japan for the problem in 2004, according to the current probe. As required by law, the company reported the action to NHTSA. But in that notice, according to the agency, Toyota informed NHTSA that it had received no complaints of the problem in the U.S. and that differences between trucks sold in Japan and the U.S. — as well as different operating conditions — meant the issue wasn’t a problem here.

On Friday afternoon, NHTSA received internal Toyota documents unearthed through a private lawsuit, a NHTSA official said, that showed Toyota actually had received complaints about the same problem with some trucks and SUVs in the U.S. — complaints that the automaker allegedly had not shared with NHTSA.

In 2005 Toyota recalled some compact trucks and 4Runner SUVs in the U.S. for the same problem.

Safety is our number one priority and we take our responsibility to protect U.S. consumers seriously,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “With new assurances from Toyota about their efforts to improve safety, I hope for their cooperation in getting to the bottom of what happened.”

LaHood had met with Toyota chief executive Akio Toyoda earlier Monday in Japan.

“Toyota has received an Information Request from NHTSA in regard to this issue,” Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said in an email. “We will cooperate with the agency’s investigation.”

Under federal regulations, automakers are required to inform the agency within five days of determining that a safety defect exists in one of its products. Failure to abide by reporting rules carries a maximum fine of $16.4 million.

Toyota recently paid one such fine for allegedly failing to report problems with gas pedals in some of its cars in a timely manner. Although Toyota agreed to pay the fine in that case, the automaker did not admit any wrongdoing.

Toyota recall

Toyota swings to profit despite recall woes

TOKYO, Japan — Toyota returned to profit for the fiscal year ending in March, despite the continuing economic downturn and a series of recalls that rattled consumer confidence in the United States, the Japanese automaker said Tuesday.

Toyota (TM) reported an annual profit of ¥209 billion ($2.2 billion) over the last year, the company said at a news conference. That figure compares to a loss of ¥437 billion for fiscal year 2008.

This is “still in a tough storm, but we are starting to see some sun on the horizon,” Toyota President Akio Toyoda said, noting the challenge his company has faced in the wake of a continuing economic downturn and the recall of some 10 million of its cars.

Net revenues for the fiscal year decreased of 7.7% compared to 2009, while operating revenue for the year recovered from a loss of ¥461 billion to a profit of ¥147.5 billion, the company announced. Cost-cutting measures helped make Toyota profitable.

Vehicle sales for the fiscal year totaled 7.24 million units, a decrease of 330,000 units from the preceding fiscal year, Toyota said. Sales were up by 218,00 vehicles in Japan and another 74,000 units across the rest of Asia.

The story was different in the United States and Europe, where sales fell by 114,000 and 204,000 units.

Toyota cars and trucks have been the subject of at least three separate major recalls in the past year.

One was for the “sticky pedal” situation in which gas pedals, as they age, begin to stick in a partially depressed position. Another was for gas pedals that can stick on some floor mats, and a third was for braking problems on Toyota Prius hybrid cars.

In April, Toyota indicated to the U.S. government it would pay a $16.4 million fine — the largest ever against an automaker — for failing to notify the Department of Transportation of the “sticky pedal” defect for at least four months.

Despite the problems, Toyota announced in late April that production soared more than 80% in March compared to year-ago levels.

Toyota on Tuesday predicted sales growth across the board for 2011, pinning its hopes on green cars and the emerging markets like India and China. 

Chile quake

Strong, moderate quakes rock Chile

Quakes struck coastal Chile late Monday and early Tuesday. This home was damaged in the earthquake on February 27.

Quakes struck coastal Chile late Monday and early Tuesday. This home was damaged in the earthquake on
A pair of earthquakes rattled coastal Chile overnight, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.A strong 6.7-magnitude quake hit at 11:22 p.m. Monday, and a moderate 5.5-magnitude quake followed at 12:05 a.m. Tuesday.

Vicente Nuñez, director of the National Emergencies Office, appealed to Chileans to remain calm, saying there was no danger of a tsunami.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or significant damage, he said.

Both quakes were centered 35 to 45 miles north of Concepcion, which was heavily damaged by a massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake on February 27.

Aftershocks have continued to rock Chile — at least seven of magnitude 5.0 or above since Sunday.