Toyota will pay $1.2bn (€860m) to settle US criminal charges that it lied to safety regulators and the public as it tried to cover up deadly accelerator defects.
The Japanese auto giant eventually recalled 12 million vehicles worldwide in 2009 and 2010 at a cost of $2.4bn as the scandal over sudden, unintended acceleration spread and tarnished its once-stellar reputation.
“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,” Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters.
“When car owners get behind the wheel, they have a right to expect that their vehicle is safe.”
In reaching the settlement, Toyota admitted it lied when it told both the public and US safety regulators in 2009 that it had addressed the main cause of the problem by fixing floor mats that could trap the accelerator.
In fact, Toyota had just weeks earlier taken steps to hide another defect from safety regulators which had first surfaced in Europe the year before.
As part of the cover-up, Toyota scrapped plans to fix the “sticky pedal” defect in the US and instructed employees and its parts supplier not to put anything about the design changes in writing.
Toyota eventually revealed the sticky pedal problems and recalled millions of affected vehicles.
But it continued to lie to the public, safety regulators and even a US congressional hearing about when the problem was discovered, the settlement agreement said.
Toyota said it has made “fundamental changes” to improve its handling of safety issues and consumer complaints and is “committed to continued improvement in everything we do to keep building trust in our company, our people and our products.”
“Entering this agreement, while difficult, is a major step toward putting this unfortunate chapter behind us,” Christopher Reynolds, chief legal officer for Toyota Motor North America, said.
The settlement came as General Motors is under fire for taking more than 10 years to address an ignition problem linked to more than 30 crashes and 12 deaths.
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