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LaHood says decision on possible new Toyota fine due in 'months'

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LaHood says decision on possible new Toyota fine due in 'months'

David Shepardson / The Detroit News

Washington -- U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said today the department is still considering whether to impose additional fines on Toyota Motor Corp. over its handling of more than 8.5 million vehicles worldwide over sudden acceleration issues.

LaHood met with Toyota president Akio Toyoda in Japan for several hours today, touring facilities and holding a joint 25-minute press conference. LaHood said the pair had a "candid, frank, serious" discussion.

"We said he really needed to change the way that he was listening to his folks in North America," LaHood said.

"We're glad that he's done this, but we're going see how it all works out. We're going to continue to pay very close attention ... to make sure that Toyota is holding up its safety criteria and making sure that their cars are safe," LaHood told reporters in Washington on a conference call from Japan this morning. "The most important thing for me is what happens going forward."

He praised Toyota's announcement of an independent safety committee, but said Toyota needed to pay attention.

"The bottom line is going to be whether he listens to these people," LaHood said. "I hope that these things that you've done can work, but they will only work if you pay attention to these people."

The Transportation Department is still reviewing 500,000 documents turned over from Toyota in the wake of its recalls of 6 million vehicles in the United States over sudden acceleration issues. Last month, LaHood imposed a $16.4 million fine over Toyota's failure to recall 2.3 million vehicles for sticky accelerator pedals for at least four months. Toyota didn't admit wrongdoing but agreed to pay it -- the largest ever in U.S. history.

But the department has several pending investigations into Toyota recalls that could result in more fines.

"This is no small feat. This will take time for us to really pore over these documents," LaHood said. "Until we pore through these documents, we're not going to know what steps we need to take, and we probably won't know for a couple of months."

He said Toyota had improved its communication with U.S. regulators and was paying much closer attention to safety issues in the United States.

LaHood said he had encouraged Toyoda -- the grandson of the company's founder -- to return to the United States in September or October and meet with members of Congress and the American people.

LaHood toured Toyota's Quality Assurance Center and Electromagnetic Testing Facility and also planned to meet with Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. officials. Also traveling with him was National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland.

Toyota still faces hundreds of lawsuits and has recently issued a string of new recalls over other safety issues. Congress is now considering sweeping reforms of auto safety laws in the wake of Toyota's recalls.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100510/AUTO01/5100381/1148/auto01/LaHood-says-decision-on-possible-new-Toyota-fine-due-in--months-#ixzz0nXDrHSAb

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