toyota-recallsToyota Motor Corp has agreed to pay $32.4 million in fines related to two investigations of the automaker’s handling of auto recalls for unintended acceleration and steering problems in several models, United States regulators said yesterday.

The settlements, confirmed by Toyota, conclude a tumultuous year for the Japanese automaker in Washington over the recalls of 11 million vehicles and disclosure of safety problems that prompted unprecedented government scrutiny, a total of three heavy fines, a loss of prestige and consumer confidence in its best-selling brands.

“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. Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, said it agreed to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) fines without admitting any violation of law.

“These agreements are an opportunity to turn the page to an even more constructive relationship with NHTSA and focus even more on listening to our customers and meeting their high expectations for safe and reliable vehicles,” Steve St. Angelo, Toyota’s chief quality officer for North America, said in a statement.

Shares in Toyota were up 0.9% in Tokyo. “It’s positive that Toyota will get past this event and can focus on quickly restoring its brand image in the US market,” said Yoshihiro Okumura, general manager at Chibagin Asset Management in Tokyo. “US sales should be the major driver for the stock.”

Toyota US sales have been flat for most of the year due to the recall crisis, industry experts say. They were down 3% in November. Jesse Toprak, a senior analyst with Truecar.com, said that settlements with the government are a good first step, but that regaining consumer trust in a hotly competitive US sales market will take years. “It won’t go away. It will be an ongoing struggle,” he said. – Reuters

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