Toyota U.S. headquarters
(Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.)

Toyota said today it will pay the federal government $1.2 billion to settle a four-year-long investigation into how the automaker handled one of the biggest recalls in U.S. history. The recall involved millions of vehicles with sticking accelerator pedals, which could get wedged in the floor mat, causing unintended acceleration of the vehicle.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in a press conference this morning that Toyota’s $1.2 billion settlement is the largest criminal fine any automaker has had to pay in U.S. history. “Today, we can say for certain that Toyota intentionally concealed information and misled the public about the safety issues behind these recalls,” Holder said. “Rather than promptly disclosing and correcting safety issues about which they were aware, Toyota made misleading public statements to consumers and gave inaccurate facts to Members of Congress,” he added.

Christopher Reynolds, chief legal officer, Toyota Motor North America, said in a statement, “At the time of these recalls, we took full responsibility for any concerns our actions may have caused customers, and we rededicated ourselves to earning their trust.” Reynolds also said, “Specifically, we have taken a number of steps that have enabled us to enhance quality control, respond more quickly to customer concerns, strengthen regional autonomy and speed decision-making. … Importantly, Toyota addressed the sticky pedal and floor mat entrapment issues with effective and durable solutions, and we stand behind the safety and quality of our vehicles.”  

Toyota’s settlement with the U.S. government comes a week after Congress and the Justice Department announced they were launching a preliminary investigation into the timing surrounding the General Motors recalls of more than 1.3 million of its small cars for ignition switch problems, which could be related to 12 deaths. GM may have known about the faulty ignition switches as early as 2001, yet did not recall the affected vehicles until last month.

Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, says, “The timing of this settlement is interesting because it means the government will [be] finalizing the last major automotive recall, Toyota’s unintended acceleration, just as it gears up for the next big recall related to GM’s ignition switch. The cases are similar because they both involve a long, established history of vehicle incidents that took years to identify and address.”

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