Documents that were submitted by Toyota to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in March and obtained by Automotive News reportedly show that Toyota knew of dangerous safety defects on its vehicles as early as February, 2006. The first documented issue was of a 2005 Toyota Prius that experienced floor mat interference with the accelerator. The company-supplied timeline reportedly shows that it received its first evidence of sticky gas pedals five months later, but Toyota claims that the defect was unrepeatable and couldn't be duplicated, and the automaker reportedly opted to "monitor the situation in the field."
Since automakers are required to issue recalls within five days of finding a safety defect, the timeline documentation seems to validate NHTSA's recent $16.4 million fine levied against the Japanese automaker. Other documentation obtained by NHTSA and published in the Detroit Free Press includes an email from former Toyota executive Irv Miller to his superiors that shows that Toyota may have known about recall issues far earlier than the recalls were ordered. Toyota has two weeks to decide whether to fight the fine or pay up. NHTSA has been investigating the timeliness with which Toyota recalled the 8 million vehicles for floor mat and pedal sticking issues for several months.
[Source: Automotive News – sub. req.]