Toyota Motor Corp has agreed to pay a record $16.4 million fine to U.S. safety regulators in response to the government's claim that it knowingly delayed a massive accelerator pedal recall in January, a government official said.
The settlement between the U.S. Department of Transportation and the world's largest automaker is expected to be signed on Monday in Washington, the official said.
The Obama administration determined that Toyota knowingly delayed a recall for a potentially dangerous mechanical glitch that could cause accelerator pedals on some of its best-selling models, including the Camry, to become stuck.
By agreeing to pay the $16.4 million fine, Toyota is accepting responsibility for hiding this safety defect from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in violation of the law, the senior Transportation Department official told Reuters.
The official asked not to be named because the settlement with Toyota had not been finalized.
A Toyota spokesman in Japan said that the automaker had not made a final determination on how it would respond to the proposed fine from U.S. officials.
A settlement of the Department of Transportation fine marks the end of one chapter in a safety crisis that has tarnished Toyota's reputation and forced it to compete aggressively on pricing to win back sales in the U.S. market.
But Toyota still faces over 100 lawsuits alleging consumer fraud and personal injuries over unintended acceleration in its vehicles.
In addition, U.S. safety regulators are continuing their investigation of Toyota and have not ruled out further action, the official said.
In a further embarrassment, Toyota has been forced to shut down production of the Lexus GX 460 SUV over a problem with its electronic control system and now faces a decision on whether to recall the vehicle.
Shares of Toyota were down almost 2 percent in early afternoon trade in Tokyo.
Monday marks the end of a two-week period in which Toyota had to either agree to pay the fine or to file an appeal.
Toyota's decision to pay the fine will not release it from potential liability in lawsuits over unintended acceleration in Toyota and Lexus vehicles, the U.S. official said.
Some lawyers estimate Toyota faces potential civil liability of more than $10 billion in U.S. courts as it struggles to contain an auto-safety crisis that has tarnished its public image.
The recent addition of demands for full refunds to U.S. owners of recalled Toyota vehicles as part of consumer protection cases filed in 12 states could raise the legal stakes even higher for the car company, lawyers say.
On Friday, Toyota's U.S. representatives said they had confirmed the results of a Consumer Reports test revealing a handling problem in the Lexus GX 460.
In addition, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce committee scheduled a May 6 hearing and asked that Toyota's U.S. sales chief Jim Lentz to testify. Lentz appeared before the same panel in February.
Lawmakers are seeking more information about the automaker's review of its electronic throttle controls and its work with an outside consultant to review its related safety systems.
(Additional reporting by Chang-Ran Kim in Tokyo; Editing by Mike Nesbit)