In the largest criminal penalty exacted against any U.S. automaker, the U.S. Justice Department and Toyota Motor Corp. came to a $1.2 billion settlement Wednesday. The Justice Department conducted a four-year federal criminal probe independent of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and congressional investigations regarding reported unintended acceleration of certain Toyota models during 2009 and 2010.
According to USA Today, Christopher P. Reynolds, Toyota's chief legal officer, noted Toyota is looking forward to putting this unfortunate chapter behind it and improving customer and safety communications. Toyota says the penalty will be charged to this fiscal year, ending March 31.
Toyota's position regarding the unintended acceleration issues were that certain types of wedged floormats could have resulted in the several unfortunate runaway vehicle situations. The Justice Department's position was that Toyota deceived and mislead customers into thinking the issue was resolved and all affected vehicles had been addressed, even suggesting Toyota had taken steps to hide related information from NHTSA about another "sticking" accelerator issue not related to the original investigation.
Toyota, in a prepared press release (link), neither confirms nor denies these accusations but confirms the settlement agreement, noting it is accepting responsibility and working to improve its processes and products. Under the agreement, the government will halt any further prosecution after three years and then dismiss its case as long as Toyota makes the required payment and complies with all terms of the settlement, which includes third-party monitoring of safety policies.
How this settlement might affect the production or design of future pickup trucks (Tacoma or Tundra) remains to be seen. All we know is that the fine is much less than one-half of 1 percent of the profits Toyota made in worldwide sales in the 2010 fiscal year.
To read the exact filings about the case against Toyota and the deferred prosecution agreement, click here.
Image by Joe Bruzek, Cars.com