LOS ANGELES -- Toyota paid $35 million to settle allegations that it colluded with other major automakers to keep gray-market vehicles from being exported from Canada to the United States.
The lawsuit continues against five other automakers: General Motors, Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler AG, American Honda Motor Co. Inc. and Nissan North America Inc.
Under the Toyota settlement, agreed to in late February, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. admits no wrongdoing in the class-action lawsuit. The suit, filed in 2003 on behalf of a group of consumers, alleges automakers violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by keeping U.S. customers from taking advantage of lower vehicle prices in Canada.
The suit seeks unspecified billions of dollars in damages for U.S. consumers who bought a vehicle of any brand after Jan. 1, 2001. By restricting Canadian imports, automakers fixed U.S. market retail prices at an unfairly high level, the suit alleges.
The suit alleges that automakers colluded to blacklist dealers who imported Canadian-market vehicles for resale.
Automakers also agreed to decline consumer warranty claims against those vehicles, the suit alleges.
The action mirrors action this decade by the European Union to enforce price uniformity among member countries.
The National Automobile Dealers Association and Canadian Automobile Dealers Association also are defendants.
Paying a settlement without admitting guilt was a better use of its legal team's time and money than going to court, says Toyota spokesman Xavier Dominicis.
Toyota honored warranties on Canadian vehicles imported to the United States, Dominicis says. And Toyota never blacklisted any dealer or owner who imported a Canadian-market vehicle, he says.
"Other automakers may have had more restrictive policies, but our actions were different from other automakers," Dominicis says. "We will continue to price our vehicles based on competitive conditions in local markets."
Spokespersons for GM, Ford, NADA and the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association declined to comment on the litigation, other than to say it is without merit. They declined to comment on Toyota's settlement.
In a 2005 motion for summary judgment, denied by the U.S. District Court in Maine that is hearing the case, GM said it never met with other automakers to discuss how to handle the gray-market issue, thus making collusion impossible.
The automaker also said its import-export policies have been independent and in place for decades.
You may e-mail Mark Rechtin at [email protected]