WASHINGTON -- Toyota Motor Corp. on Monday agreed to pay two more safety fines for a total of $32.4 million, the maximum allowable under U.S. law, to settle federal investigations of whether the company notified regulators of safety defects in timely fashion.
The fines, in addition to an earlier $16.4 million levy paid to settle a similar probe, brings to $48.8 million the amount that Toyota has agreed to pay in civil penalties this year.
Each of the three fines was the maximum permitted under federal law at the time the alleged violations occurred. Together they dwarf safety penalties paid by any other automaker over the years.
One investigation settled Monday involved 2004-2005 recalls of light trucks for alleged loss of steering control. The other involved a 2007 floor-mat recall to address unintended acceleration caused by pedal entrapment.
Under the settlements, Toyota did not admit to any violation of its federal safety obligations.
"Toyota is pleased to have resolved these legacy issues related to the timeliness of prior recalls dating back to 2005," Steve St. Angelo, Toyota's Chief Quality Officer for North America, said in a statement. "As we have demonstrated in recent months, our North American operations now have a greater voice in making safety decisions, and we are taking appropriate action whenever any issues emerge."
Toyota could still be subject to additional fines and investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The company could face another possible fine in a probe of whether it viewed unintended acceleration defects too narrowly in four recalls between 2007 and January 2010, said a NHTSA official who declined to be identified.
That investigation, begun in February, is looking in part at how Toyota considered electronic interference as a possible cause of sudden acceleration, the NHTSA Web site says.
The probe is also addressing whether Toyota should have recalled additional models with electronic throttle control, according to the Web site.
Toyota has said that all cases of unintended acceleration stem from either floor mat entrapment or sticky gas pedals. Its tests have ruled out electronic interference as a possible cause, the company said.
Since November 2009, Toyota has recalled 15.5 million vehicles worldwide, most for unintended acceleration.
"I am pleased that Toyota agreed to pay the maximum possible penalty and I expect Toyota to work cooperatively in the future to ensure consumer safety," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.
The biggest previous fine, before Toyota's three penalties for more than $16 million apiece, was a $1 million fine paid by General Motors for windshield-wiper failure in vehicles made in 2002-2003.
Sales targets rise
"It's positive that Toyota will get past this event and can focus on quickly restoring its brand image in the U.S. market," Yoshihiro Okumura, general manager at Chibagin Asset Management in Tokyo, said of the fines.
"U.S. sales should be the major driver for the stock."
Toyota said separately today that it planned to boost its group-wide global vehicle sales by 3 percent to 8.61 million units in 2011, led by 9 percent growth in the United States to 1.90 million vehicles.
Toyota was the worst performer among major automakers in the United States this year, with a rise of just 0.2 percent in its single-biggest market, which expanded 11.2 percent in the year to date.
Jesse Toprak, a senior analyst with Truecar.com, said settlements with the government are a good first step, but that regaining consumer trust in a hotly contested U.S. market would take years.
"It won't go away. It will be an ongoing struggle," he said.
Toyota is counting on sales growth of between 7-9 percent in China, North America and Europe, and an 11 percent rise in Asia to make up for an estimated 17 percent drop in its domestic sales in 2011.
It expects parent-only sales, which exclude mini-vehicle unit Daihatsu Motor and truck unit Hino Motors, to rise 3 percent to 7.70 million vehicles next year.
Reuters contributed to this report.