• Kyodo

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U.S. transport safety authorities launched a probe Monday into recalls issued by Toyota Motor Corp. over steering wheel defects in 2005, suspecting the automaker might have failed to promptly report the case to the authorities.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it opened an investigation into whether Toyota notified the agency of a defect in steering relay rods in several models, including the 4Runner sport utility vehicle, within five business days of learning of the problem.

According to the NHTSA, Toyota conducted a recall in Japan in 2004 for Hilux pickup trucks due to weakness in the steering relay rods that could cause a loss of control.

Although Toyota initially told U.S. authorities the problem only affected vehicles in Japan, the company informed the NHTSA in 2005 that the same defect was also found in several models sold in the United States and issued a recall.

“With new assurances from Toyota about their efforts to improve safety, I hope for their cooperation in getting to the bottom of what happened,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

Toyota said it is “reviewing the information request from the NHTSA and will cooperate with the agency’s investigation.”

The announcement came after LaHood said Monday in Japan that U.S. authorities will continue to keep a sharp eye on Toyota’s measures to ensure quality control in the wake of its recent massive recalls.

Before making remarks at a news conference with Toyota President Akio Toyoda, LaHood toured the Toyota headquarters in Aichi Prefecture, including facilities related to quality management, at the invitation of Toyoda.

Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide, including some of its top-selling models, such as the Prius hybrid and the Camry sedan, over problems involving accelerator pedals, floor mats, sudden acceleration and brake faults.

While the automaker agreed last month to pay a record $16.4 million fine imposed by U.S. authorities for failing to promptly notify them of problems with accelerator pedals, the company has denied covering up defects in its vehicles.

Sales of imports up KYODO Sales of new imported vehicles, including those produced overseas by Japanese carmakers, rose 2.6 percent in April from a year earlier to 11,642 units, marking the sixth consecutive monthly rise, an industry body said Tuesday.

Of the total, sales of foreign-brand vehicles increased 6.1 percent to 10,383 units, while those of Japanese-brand vehicles fell 19.5 percent to 1,259 units, the Japan Automobile Importers Association said.

By category, sales of cars totaled 10,667 units, up 2.9 percent from a year earlier, but those of trucks edged down to 968 units from 971 units.

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