U.S. regulators will run safety tests on a new Lexus SUV and take action if the Toyota Motor Corp. vehicle does not meet government standards, the top U.S. auto safety official said today.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it had received a preliminary report from Consumer Reports before the influential magazine issued a public warning on Tuesday calling the 2010 Lexus GX 460 a "safety risk" and warning against buying the vehicle.
"My compliance staff is going to take a look at several of these vehicles including the test vehicle that was used at Consumer Reports," NHTSA chief David Strickland told reporters on the sidelines of the SAE International 2010 World Congress in Detroit.
In the latest blow to Toyota's reputation, the automaker halted sales of its Lexus GX 460 luxury SUV in the United States on Tuesday after Consumer Reports said the electronic stability control system kicked in late on a sharp curve and gave the vehicle a "non-acceptable" rating.
Toyota has extended the sales suspension on the Lexus GX 460 to other global markets and said earlier today it would conduct safety tests on all of its SUVs. Strickland said NHTSA would use its electronic stability control testing framework to see if the Lexus SUV meets those standards.
The automaker has faced stiff criticism from U.S. lawmakers and safety advocates for its handling of massive recalls for defective accelerator pedals in January that prompted an unprecedented suspension of sales and production.
Safety regulators also have sought to impose a record $16.4 million fine against Toyota, accusing the automaker of delays in conducting the recall on sticky accelerator pedals. They are also considering other fines.
Strickland said NHTSA expected a response very soon from Toyota about the proposed fine. Toyota has until Monday to challenge that initial fine, the maximum allowed by U.S. law and the largest that the regulator has ever sought.
He said Toyota "took the proactive step" on the Lexus GX 460, a swift response he hopes other automakers will make.
He said that since he became administrator in January, "Toyota has definitely been more responsive. The career staff has noted that there has been a change about their level of responsiveness."
NHTSA is looking at several rule changes industrywide to improve vehicle safety, including the possibility of making "black boxes" that can capture data on speed, braking and other details mandatory on all new vehicles.
Other potential changes might address start/stop push button controls, braking systems that take priority over the accelerator and creating a pedal that cannot be entrapped by floormats, all thought to be factors in recent crashes.