Toyota agreed to pay $1.2 billion to settle a lawsuit with the U.S. Attorney's Office over an investigation into Toyota's "unintended acceleration" recalls. The investigation, which began in February 2010, concerned whether Toyota had kept information secret about sticking throttle pedals and problems with floor mats. The settlement means that the U.S. government won't pursue any further litigation against Toyota, so long as the Japanese automaker makes the payment.
In 2010, Toyota recalled 2.3 million Lexus and Toyota vehicles in the U.S. for sticking accelerator pedals, and another 5.4 million vehicles over concerns the floor mats could "trap" the accelerator.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that Toyota deliberately delayed recalling vehicles affected by the unintended acceleration problems. "While Toyota conducted a limited recall of some vehicles with floor mat issues in September 2009, the company delayed a broader recall until early 2010 -- despite internal tests warning of the dangers posed by other, unrecalled vehicle models," he said. "In other words, Toyota confronted a public safety emergency as if it were a simple public relations problem."
The $1.2 billion settlement is the largest the U.S. government has ever levied against a car company, and also requires Toyota to admit responsibility. On top of that, an "independent monitor" will review Toyota's safety and recall procedures. Toyota previously paid a $16.4 million fine in 2010 for failing to disclose the problems in a timely manner.
Toyota, for its part, said in a statement that it has already made significant internal changes in the wake of the unintended acceleration scandal. "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," Toyota Motor North America chief legal officer Christopher P. Reynolds said in a statement. "In the more than four years since these recalls, we have gone back to basics at Toyota to put our customers first."
"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," Reynolds continued. "Entering this agreement, while difficult, is a major step toward putting this unfortunate chapter behind us."