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Lexus sales freeze goes global

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Lexus sales freeze goes global

Toyota expands action on Consumer Reports' charge of rollover risk

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

Toyota Motor Corp. halted sales of its Lexus GX 460 around the globe Wednesday, a day after suspending sales of the premium SUV in the U.S. because of a potential rollover risk.

The Japanese automaker expanded the scope of its sales freeze to address safety concerns raised by Consumer Reports.

The influential magazine warned people not to buy the vehicles because its engineers experienced problems in emergency-handling tests that suggest the vehicle may be prone to rollovers.

Toyota's quick decision to stop selling the vehicle is part of the company's effort to improve its reputation and show that it will "overreact" to safety concerns, rather than drag its feet.

The automaker has been criticized -- and faces a record fine from U.S. safety regulators -- for reacting too slowly to complaints about its vehicles.

Since November, Toyota has recalled 8.5 million vehicles worldwide, including 6 million in the United States, over sudden acceleration concerns.

The automaker has sold about 5,400 of the 2010 Lexus GX 460 model in North America since it was introduced last fall and 6,300 worldwide. It said it would provide loaner vehicles for owners who feel uncomfortable driving the vehicle.

Toyota spokeswoman Allison Takahashi said Wednesday the company had no estimate on when it might start selling the vehicle again and its investigation continues.

The move may delay its plans to launch the Lexus SUV in China in the next few weeks.

Toyota engineers in Japan are attempting to reproduce the test conditions of Consumer Reports' track to try to duplicate the findings that led to the magazine's "don't buy" rating.

But Consumer Reports declined Toyota's request to grant it access to its test track, Toyota said.

Consumer Reports hasn't issued a don't buy rating since 2001with a Mitsubishi.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration said Wednesday that it is testing the Lexus.

The agency learned of the Consumer Reports findings on Friday and sent a letter to Toyota on Monday, asking how the company planned to address the issues raised by the report.

In January, Toyota suspended sale of eight models in the United States over sticky pedal concerns, putting about 60 percent of its vehicles in the United States off limits for sale until it came up with a remedy and repaired the vehicles.

The automaker said Wednesday it is still debating whether to appeal a $16.4 million civil penalty imposed by government regulators ahead of a Monday deadline.

On Wednesday, lawyers for Toyota and NHTSA discussed the fine -- the maximum under federal law and by far the largest ever sought.

NHTSA demanded the fine on April 5 over the company's Jan. 21 recall of 2.3 million vehicles for sticky accelerator pedals, saying it was at least four months late.

Toyota isn't expected to announce its plans until Friday at the earliest.

The debate over whether to appeal the fine is just one of many woes the Japanese automaker is facing in the wake of its recalls.

NHTSA also told Toyota it could face a second fine over its timeliness of recalls.

NHTSA hasn't negotiated with Toyota over the terms of its demand that the company pay the maximum civil penalty for what it says was at least a four-month delay in ordering a recall of 2.3 million vehicles for sticky pedal concerns in January.

If Toyota opted to challenge the penalty, NHTSA said it will go to federal court to get a judge to impose the fine.

A challenge would likely lead to a hearing -- with government witnesses who could provide embarrassing testimony about Toyota's handling of its recall.

It's not clear what impact paying the fine would have on the more than 200 lawsuits that Toyota faces over sudden acceleration and sticky pedal issues.

Toyota also must turn over thousands of pages of records to NHTSA by Saturday as part of its investigation into whether Toyota recalled enough vehicles in three separate campaigns.

Last month, Toyota turned over 70,000 pages to NHTSA as part of its investigation into whether Toyota recalled vehicles in a timely fashion.

NHTSA said Toyota knew in September that it had a problem with accelerator pedals that required fixing, but failed to recall 2.3 million vehicles until January -- four months later.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100415/AUTO01/4150350/1148/auto01/Lexus-sales-freeze-goes-global#ixzz0lAlnzcKv

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