Toyota pays £21m but still denies any violations over US car recalls

JAPANESE car giant Toyota has agreed to pay a record $32.4 million (£21m) in additional fines to settle two investigations by US authorities 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 car maker over the recalls of 11 million vehicles in America and the 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.

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US transportation secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement that accompanied the announcement in Washington: "I am pleased that Toyota agreed to pay the maximum possible penalty and I expect Toyota to work co-operatively in the future to ensure consumer safety."

Toyota said it had agreed to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) fines without admitting any violation of law.

Yoshihiro Okumura, general manager at Chibagin Asset Management in Tokyo, said of the fines: "It's positive that Toyota will get past this event and can focus on quickly restoring its brand image in the US market.

"US sales should be the major driver for the stock."

Toyota said separately yesterday it planned to boost its group-wide global vehicle sales by 3 per cent to 8.61 million units in 2011, led by 9 per cent growth in the US to 1.90 million vehicles.

The firm was the worst performer among major car manufacturers in the America 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.

Shares in Toyota closed up 0.6 per cent in Tokyo yesterday.

Jesse Toprak, a senior analyst with, said settlements with the US government are a good first step, but regaining consumer trust in a hotly contested US market would take years. "It won't go away. It will be an ongoing struggle," he said.

Toyota is counting on sales growth of between 7-9 per cent in China, North America and Europe, and an 11 per cent rise in Asia to make up for an estimated 17 per cent drop in its domestic sales in 2011.

It expects parent-only sales, which exclude mini vehicle unit Daihatsu Motor and truck unit Hino Motors, to rise 3 percent to 7.7 million vehicles next year. With the latest fines, Toyota has agreed to pay almost $50m to US regulators this year, including a $16.4m fine, the maximum allowed, in April.That was over allegations it failed to notify the government in a timely way about accelerator pedals that would not spring back as designed.