Toyota To Pay $1.2 Billion Criminal Penalty for Faulty Acceleration

Mar 19, 2014 11:24 AM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

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Toyota will pay a $1.2 billion criminal penalty to settle a federal investigation after more than 10 million vehicles were recalled due to unintended acceleration.

The penalty represents the largest such settlement ever required of an automaker in the United States, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.  

"Toyota intentionally concealed information and misled the public," Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday at a Justice Department news conference, as reported by Businessweek.

Toyota "confronted a public safety emergency as if it were a simple public relations problem," Holder said.

American authorities have been investigating owner complaints over the faulty acceleration for four years, according to Reuters. A California highway patrolman and his family reportedly died after his Lexus unintentionally accelerated, bringing national attention to the faulty vehicles.

Toyota has been working with hundreds of customers claiming injury and last year reached a settlement of around $1.6 billion with car owners who brought lawsuits.

Besides paying the criminal penalty settlement, the Japanese carmaker will have to "fully admit wrongdoing" and undergo a "rigorous" outside review, Businessweek reported.

The disastrous acceleration problem damaged Toyota's hitherto strong reputation, causing the automaker to lose its No. 1 status to General Motors for a year.

In 2009 and 2010, Toyota recalled millions of vehicles to make changes to the gas pedals and floor mats, which were jamming the accelerator.

The company is working to renew consumer faith in its cars and "took full responsibility" for what happened, according to Christopher P. Reynolds, chief legal officer for Toyota Motor North America.

"In the more than four years since these recalls, we have gone back to basics at Toyota to put our customers first," Reynolds said in a statement quoted by Businessweek. "We have made fundamental changes across our global operations to become a more responsive company--listening better to our customers' needs and proactively taking action to serve them."

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