13 July 1999

The US Justice Department has sued Toyota Motor Sales USA, seeking up to $58 billion in civil penalties for 2.2 million vehicles sold with allegedly malfunctioning pollution-detection systems. The lawsuit was filed in US District Court in Washington, DC, after Toyota rejected an offer from the Justice Department to settle the charges. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The alleged violations involve the 1996-98 Toyota and Lexus model vehicles. The remedy sought under the Clean Air Act could include a recall of the affected vehicles. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties against Toyota of up to $25,000 for each car sold in violation of the law before 31 January 1997 and $27,500 for each car sold after that date.

The lawsuit involves as many as 588,650 vehicles from the 1996 model year (MY), 857,620 vehicles from the 1997 MY and 735,897 vehicles from the 1998 MY. The penalties could range as much as $56 to $58 billion.

The lawsuit claimed that Toyota’s computerized emissions control monitoring systems (on-board diagnostics—OBD II) could permit increased emissions of gasoline vapors from the fuel systems without the knowledge of the owners. An investigation by California Air Resources Board (ARB) found that Toyota and Lexus OBD II systems worked properly under laboratory conditions but failed to detect vapor leaks from gas tanks, vapor lines and other areas of the fuel system under normal on-road use. The system is supposed to detect leaks in the emission system and to illuminate a warning light on the dashboard to notify the driver if a leak occurs.

The California ARB already has ordered a recall of Toyota and Lexus vehicles sold in the state after it discovered the vehicles failed to meet federal and state requirements.