Reports: Toyota, Justice Dept. near $1 billion settlement

Mar 19, 2014 5:43 AM

TOKYO (AP) - The U.S. Justice Department may reach a $1 billion settlement with Toyota Motor Corp., ending a four-year criminal investigation into the Japanese automaker's disclosure of safety problems, according to numerous reports.

Toyota declined comment Wednesday on one report, in The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources as cautioning that a settlement still could fall apart.

A Toyota spokesperson told CBS News early Wednesday that, "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."

The New York Times, citing a person briefed on the matter, says the deal isn't final yet, but could be announced as soon as Wednesday.

The investigation focuses on whether Toyota was forthright in reporting quality problems related to unintended acceleration troubles.

Starting in 2009, Toyota issued massive recalls, mostly in the U.S., totaling more than 10 million vehicles for various problems including faulty brakes, gas pedals and floor mats.

From 2010 through 2012, Toyota Motor Corp. paid fines totaling more than $66 million for delays in reporting unintended acceleration problems.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration never found defects in electronics or software in Toyota cars, which had been targeted as a possible cause by many, including some experts.

The Justice Department is now looking into whether U.S. automaker General Motors Co. was slow in recalling cars with a defect linked to 13 deaths.

Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said the timing of one investigation possibly closing versus another opening was interesting.

"The cases are similar because they both involve a long, established history of vehicle incidents that took years to identify and address," he said.

Toyota will likely be able to put the issue behind it by reaching a settlement, he said.

"GM is just getting started on its path to resolution and will probably be working to resolve the ignition switch recall for some time."

The Times says a Toyota deal could offer "a template for the authorities pursuing a similar case" against GM.

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