TOYOTA has agreed to pay the maximum fine of $32.4m (£20.95m) related to two US probes into its handling of a spate of vehicle recalls which hurt sales and tarnished its once impeccable reputation for quality.
The settlements conclude a tumultuous year for the world’s largest automaker over the recalls of 11m vehicles in the US and disclosure of problems blamed by safety advocates for hundreds of crashes and the deaths of dozens of people.
The crisis prompted unprecedented government scrutiny over unintended acceleration complaints, a total of three heavy fines, and a loss of prestige and consumer confidence in Toyota’s best-selling cars.
“I am pleased that Toyota agreed to pay the maximum possible penalty and I expect Toyota to work cooperatively in the future to ensure consumer safety,” Transportation secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement that accompanied the late night announcement in Washington on Monday.
Toyota said it agreed to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) fines without admitting any violation of law.
Toyota said separately yesterday that it planned to boost its group-wide global vehicle sales by three per cent to 8.61m units in 2011, led by nine per cent growth in the US to 1.90m vehicles.
Toyota was the worst performer among major automakers in the US this year, with a rise of just 0.2 per cent in its single-biggest market, which expanded 11.2 per cent in the year to date. The stock has fallen more than 15 per cent this year, compared with a flat performance for Japan’s main index – the TOPIX.
Jesse Toprak, a senior analyst with Truecar.com, said settlements with the government are a good first step, but that regaining consumer trust in a hotly contested US market would take years.