The government will reprimand Toyota and require the Japanese automaker to do a better job in recalls, but no laws were broken in a negligence case now under criminal investigation, a ministry official said yesterday.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said a minor administrative penalty called "guidance" will be issued to Toyota Motor Corp as soon as today.
The government has the authority to impose fines and, if needed, imprison wrongdoers, in professional negligence cases, but the penalty being planned for Toyota includes no fines and will merely ask Toyota to make improvements on recall procedures and make a report to the ministry on the moves, the official said in a telephone interview.
At a news conference yesterday, Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe apologized for the recall troubles under police investigation in a 2004 accident that injured five people.
"I take this seriously and see it as a crisis," Watanabe said. "I want to apologize deeply for the troubles we have caused," he said, bowing deeply.
Earlier this month, police said they were sending papers to prosecutors on three Toyota officials in a criminal investigation on suspicion of professional negligence for allegedly shirking recalls for eight years.
The defects being investigated, a suspected faulty steering part, may have caused an August 2004 head-on crash that injured five people. Toyota has denied any wrongdoing, and Watanabe declined to elaborate on the case and made it clear he was merely apologizing for the troubles that had ensued, not for wrongdoing.
The ministry's decision can be seen as a relief for Toyota because it determined that the company broke no laws, such as falsely reporting defects or fixing cars on the roads without recalls.
But it is also clearly an embarrassment for Toyota, whose reputation for quality is one reason behind its booming sales.
Prosecutors, however, are independent and may still file charges against the officials of Toyota.