Ford to Pay U.S. $17.4 Million for Delayed Escape Recall

Ford Motor Co. (F) agreed to pay $17.4 million, the largest penalty the U.S. auto-safety regulator can impose, for delaying recalls involving unintended acceleration.

The June 28 agreement, announced today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, involves Ford Escape SUVs the automaker recalled last year after a fatal crash in Arizona.

Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) was assessed the same penalty by NHTSA in December for delaying reports that accelerator pedals could be entrapped by floor mats in some Lexus models. That followed NHTSA’s $48.8 million in fines against Toyota in 2009 and 2010 for delaying recalls related to unintended acceleration.

“It is critical to the safety of the driving public that manufacturers address automotive safety issues quickly and in a forthright manner,” Nathan Naylor, a NHTSA spokesman, said in an e-mail. “As government regulators, it is our job to ensure that manufacturers are held accountable to address safety issues promptly and responsively.”

The Wall Street Journal reported the fine earlier today.

Automakers are required to notify NHTSA within five business days of safety-related vehicle defects. Ford, based in Dearborn, Michigan, recalled about 485,000 Escape and Maverick models from model years 2001 to 2004 after NHTSA opened an investigation into reports that a cruise-control defect could cause throttles to stick.

Photographer: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg

Ford Motor Co. issued the recall in July 2012 for vehicles with 3.0-liter V-6 engines and speed control. Close

Ford Motor Co. issued the recall in July 2012 for vehicles with 3.0-liter V-6 engines and speed control.

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Photographer: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg

Ford Motor Co. issued the recall in July 2012 for vehicles with 3.0-liter V-6 engines and speed control.

NHTSA contended the company had enough information by May 2011 to recall the vehicles, Kelli Felker, a Ford spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

Ford issued the recall in July 2012 for vehicles with 3.0-liter V-6 engines and speed control. Vehicles with other engines weren’t included.

“While we are confident in our current processes for quickly identifying and addressing potential vehicle issues, Ford agreed to this settlement to avoid a lengthy dispute with the government,” Felker said.

While the settlement amount is “whopping,” Escape sales are running at record levels, Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst at Edmunds.com, an auto-industry information provider, said in a note today.

To contact the reporters on this story: Angela Greiling Keane in Washington at agreilingkea@bloomberg.net; Megan Durisin in Detroit at mdurisin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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