Toyota to Pay Nearly $16.4 Million in Government Fine Over Gas Pedal Defect

Feb. 5:  Toyota president Akio Toyoda reacts during a news conference in Nagoya, Japan.

Feb. 5: Toyota president Akio Toyoda reacts during a news conference in Nagoya, Japan.  (AP)

Toyota has agreed to pay the maximum penalty of $16.375 million over the embattled automaker's gas pedal defect, but continues to deny the government's allegation that it broke the law. 

Toyota said it agreed to the penalty "to avoid a protracted dispute and possible litigation." 

"We believe we made a good faith effort to investigate this condition and develop an appropriate countermeasure. We have acknowledged that we could have done a better job of sharing relevant information within our global operations and outside the company, but we did not try to hide a defect to avoid dealing with a safety problem," Toyota said.

But a senior Transportation Department official said Toyota is nevertheless "accepting responsibility for hiding this safety defect from NHTSA in violation of the law" by paying the fine in full. 

"I am pleased that Toyota has accepted responsibility for violating its legal obligations to report any defects promptly," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Monday in announcing the largest-ever penalty paid by an automaker to the U.S. government. 

Toyota is expected to pay the full amount of the assessed fine within 30 days as a means of avoiding going to court against the government.

Under federal law, carmakers are required to notify the government within five business days when they find a potential safety defect.

Toyota announced it would recall 2.3 million vehicles in January to address sticking pedals on popular vehicles such as the Camry and Corolla. The Japanese automaker has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide because of acceleration problems in multiple models and braking issues in the Prius hybrid.

Concerns about sticking gas pedals and complaints from Toyota owners in the U.S. were rising at the end of 2009, according to chronologies of the investigation Toyota provided to the government.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said documents provided by Toyota showed the automaker had known about the sticky pedal defect at least since Sept. 29, 2009, when it issued repair procedures to distributors in 31 European countries to address complaints of sticking pedals, sudden increases in engine RPM and sudden vehicle acceleration.

The documents also showed that Toyota knew that owners in the United States had experienced the same problems.

Transportation officials have not ruled out additional fines. The department is reviewing whether Toyota delayed for six weeks the late January recall of the 2009-2010 Venza in the United States to address floor mats that could entrap the accelerator pedal after making a similar recall in Canada.

Toyota recalled the Venza in Canada in December and reported to the U.S. government on Dec. 16 that the floor mats could move forward while the vehicle is in use and "may interfere with the accelerator pedal."

Toyota told U.S. authorities at the time that the floor mats in question were not imported into the U.S. but the Venza was added to the floor mat recall in late January.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.