Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) agreed to pay up to $30 million in civil penalties for tardy recall reporting in a two-year consent agreement with federal safety regulators. It is the biggest such fine sought in five years.
DTNA must pay $10 million to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) within 60 days. And it must present a plan to invest $5 million to improve its analysis of safety issues within 90 days. The remaining $15 million is deferred. It could be forgiven if DTNA does everything in the 18-page consent order released Thursday.
A year ago, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz passenger car unit agreed to pay NHTSA a $20 million penalty over its handling of U.S. vehicle recalls. That included a similar failure to notify owners in a timely manner and submit all the required reports.
Investigation began in 2018
NHTSA began investigating DTNA’s timeliness in recall reporting in April 2018. The initial focus was on four safety recalls, including one involving 438,255 Freightliner Cascadia and Western Star brand trucks from 2008-2018 for brake light failures. The investigation grew to cover seven recalls involving 477,476 trucks.
NHTSA requires a vehicle maker to report a suspected defect and noncompliance report within five business days of discovery. DTNA, which sells more Class 8 trucks than any other truck maker, initially disagreed with NHTSA’s finding.
“In this case, though there are no known accidents or injuries associated with any of the voluntary recalls, we appreciate the opportunity to summarily resolve this matter and continue building safe, efficient and reliable commercial vehicles,” a Daimler spokesman told FreightWaves.
Largest truck maker penalty since 2015
The consent decree carries the largest penalty sought by NHTSA since December 2015 when it fined Fiat Chrysler Automobiles $70 million for underreporting crash, death and injury data tied to its cars and trucks. In July of the same year, specialty heavy-duty truck maker Forest River was fined $35 million.
The Portland, Oregon-based subsidiary of Daimler Trucks AG continues to report safety recalls of various sizes. That includes the recall in July of 164,317 Freightliner models from 2017-2021 because of antilock brake corrosion. In October, Daimler recalled four model years of Cascadias because the brake lights remain illuminated when the brake pedal is released.
Agreeing to work toward technological solutions to more timely recall reporting fits with Daimler’s approach toward telematics and advanced driver assistance systems. DTNA was the first to bring Level 2 automated driving features to a Class 8 truck with the Detroit 5.0 system offered as an option on its 2020 model Cascadia.
“DTNA will invest in and in good faith work toward developing advanced data analytics capabilities to enhance its ability to detect and study emerging safety-related defect trends on its vehicles,” according to the consent order. Machine learning, predictive analytics and sensing methodologies would be added to safety investigations.
“The paramount focus for Daimler Trucks North America is on building safe, efficient and reliable commercial vehicles for the customers and drivers who keep our country and the world moving,” the DTNA spokesman said.