The Justice Department announced Wednesday that Toyota will pay $1.2 billion -- one of the largest penalties ever imposed against an automaker -- to settle a criminal probe of its handling of reports of unintended acceleration in its vehicles.
The investigation was spearheaded by the U.S. Attorney's office and FBI in New York.
After reports of the settlement surfaced late Tuesday, Toyota issued a statement:
"Toyota has cooperated with the U.S. attorney's office in this matter for more than four years. During that time, we have made fundamental changes to become a more responsive and customer-focused organization, and we are committed to continued improvements."
As opposed to a raft of civil litigation, the criminal looked strictly at whether Toyota provided false or incomplete statements to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the government's car safety arm. It also looked at how it handled complaints.
Toyota has already paid $1.6 billion to car owners in the cases. Toyota paid federal fines of $16.375 million in 2010 and a $17.35 million fine in 2012 for delays in safety defect reporting. Now, the automaker is sure to hope once again that it can move on.
"While the $1 billion price tag represents a costly resolution, Toyota can put this issue behind it to fully focus on current and future challenges in a highly competitive market," says Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, in a statement.
The cases involve instances in which Toyota accelerated when the drivers did not intend it, in essence, becoming runaway cars. After an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer and three passengers in a Lexus ES were killed near San Diego in 2009, other reports surfaced. Toyota blamed floor mats that can jam under the gas pedal. it also recalled potentially sticky accelerator mechanisms in several models.
Over months, safety experts alleged that the car's electronics. In the end, after congressional hearings and months of revelations, federal investigator were unable to show that the car's electronics were at fault for unintended acceleration.