US settles clean air case against Toyota

The US Department of Justice and the Environment Protection Agency have reached a settlement with Toyota for Clean Air Act violations involving 2.2 million vehicles manufactured between 1996 and 1998.

The US Department of Justice and the Environment Protection Agency have reached a settlement with the Toyota Motor Corporation for Clean Air Act violations involving 2.2 million vehicles manufactured between 1996 and 1998.

Under the terms of the settlement, Toyota will spend $20 million on a supplemental environmental project to retrofit up to 3,000 public diesel fleet vehicles to make them run cleaner and extend the emission control system warranty on affected vehicles. In addition, Toyota will accelerate its compliance with certain new emission control requirements, and pay a $500,000 civil penalty. The settlement will cost Toyota an estimated $34 million.

The US alleged that Toyota sold 2.2 million vehicles which were different from those described in its application for Certificates of Conformity, which allow vehicles to be legally sold if they meet Clean Air Act emission standards.

The US government’s lawsuit charged that Toyota failed to disclose limitations in the operation of that part of the on-board diagnostic system that checks for leaks in vehicles’ evaporative emission control systems. As a result, the on-board diagnostic system would not promptly signal drivers to a problem by lighting their dashboard light. Emission control system leaks need to be noticed and repaired because fuel vapours that enter the atmosphere contribute to ozone pollution.

The supplemental environmental project requires Toyota to spend $20 million to retrofit up to 3,000 diesel vehicles, including older, high-polluting school buses and municipal buses (which are not manufactured by Toyota) with pollution control equipment, such as catalytic converters, filters or whole engines. This retrofit, along with the purchase of ultra-low sulphur fuel (which Toyota may subsidise) is expected to eliminate up to 220 tons of particulate matter emissions, 1,200 tons of hydrocarbon emissions, and 15,000 tons of carbon monoxide emissions.

The settlement also requires Toyota to accelerate, by approximately one year, its compliance with the EPA’s new near-zero evaporative emissions regulation, which requires the capture of more gasoline vapours. Due to this accelerated compliance, about 1.4 million new Toyota vehicles manufactured from 2004 to 2006, which would not yet be subject to the new regulation, will be built with more robust evaporative emission control systems. The accelerated compliance schedule is estimated to cost Toyota about $11 million.

The case, filed in the federal District Court in Washington, DC, involves vehicles made between 1996 to 1998, including some Camry, Avalon, Corolla, Tercel, Paseo, Lexus, Sienna minivans, 4Runner, RAV4, Tacoma and T100 models.

The settlement requires Toyota to notify affected owners of the warranty extension within the next 12 months. The evaporative emission control system warranty will be extended from the current two years or 24,000 miles to 14 years or 150,000 miles. The extended warranty is estimated to cost Toyota about $3 million, and will reduce emissions of hydrocarbons by affected vehicles by an estimated 30 tons, in addition to the 1,200- ton reduction of hydrocarbons achieved by the supplement environmental project.

The EPA suggests that US owners who have not received a notice within 12 months are encouraged to contact their local Toyota dealer. Owners who smell gasoline or whose malfunction indicator light illuminates should contact their mechanic to determine whether a repair under the extended warranty is indicated. A small number of affected vehicles are expected to have any such malfunction at this time, which is why the government did not consider a recall in this case, according to the EPA.

The proposed settlement will be published in the US Federal Register for 30 days for public comment, and must be approved by the Court.