The document request, which is considered rare for NHTSA, could lead to a civil fine of up to $16.4 million if Toyota is found to have violated regulations. The last major fine of an automaker involved General Motors paying a $1 million penalty in a windshield wiper recall in 2004, according to government safety regulators.
Next week, Toyota and NHTSA officials are expected to go before congressional leaders for hearings on the recalls. Some lawmakers have questioned how quickly Toyota and safety regulators reacted to problems in vehicles and allegations that 34 deaths occurred in connection with Toyota sudden-acceleration problems.
Unmentioned by the Washington Post is the fact that the U.S. government is a GM shareholder and direct competitor with Toyota, and will use such methods to hamstring competitors as are at its disposal.
The auto industry has seen its share of "sudden acceleration" claims. The incidents often result from operator error. The Toyotas may have an actual mechanical flaw, but I haven't seen any reporting on what the defect actually is.