Toyota recalls more vehicles

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Toyota Motor Corp. is recalling 2.77 million vehicles around the world for a water pump problem and a steering shaft defect that may result in faulty steering — the latest in a spate of quality woes for Japan’s top automaker.

No accidents have been reported related to these two problems announced Wednesday, according to Toyota.

Separately, Toyota agreed to settle a shareholder class-action lawsuit related to its sudden acceleration problems for $25.5 million, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Those problems came to the surface in late 2009 following a San Diego County accident that killed a family of four in a Lexus. In the months following, Toyota recalled more than 10 million vehicles worldwide, faced multiple congressional investigations and eventually paid record fines of almost $50 million.

In its latest recall, Toyota said 1.51 million vehicles are being recalled for the steering defect in Japan and 1.25 million vehicles abroad — including 670,000 in the U.S. Affected models include the Prius hybrid, Corolla, Wish and other models produced from 2000 to 2011 in Japan, and from 2000 to 2009 overseas.

Of those vehicles, some 620,000 spanning five hybrid models, including the Prius, have a defective water pump in addition to the steering shaft defect. Those vehicles were produced from 2001 to 2010 in Japan, and from 2003 to 2011 overseas. Another 10,000 vehicles with only a pump problem are also being recalled.

The latest recalls — affecting Toyota’s prized Prius hybrid, a symbol of its technological prowess — come on top of a recall last month for 7.43 million vehicles for a faulty power-window switch that could cause fires.

Toyota has been trying to fix its reputation after a series of massive recalls of 14 million vehicles over the last several years, mostly in the U.S., affecting faulty floor mats, braking and gas pedals.

Before that, Toyota had boasted a reputation for pristine quality, centered around its super-lean production methods that empowered workers to hone in on quality control. Toyota executives have acknowledged the escalating recalls were partly caused by the company’s overly ambitious growth goals.

Executives had shrugged off last month’s recalls as coming from products made before stricter quality controls kicked in following the soul-searching that came after the recall scandal in the U.S.

The settlement from the 2009 recall that was reported Wednesday would put to rest allegations that the company hurt the value of its stock by hiding defects and other safety problems as well as by not acting swiftly to address vehicles that accelerated out of control.

Plaintiffs in the class-action suit, led by the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System, had claimed damages in excess of $100 million dollars. Overall, Toyota’s total market value fell by as much as $30 billion at the height of the crisis.

“We are pleased to be turning the page on this legacy legal issue, pending court approval, and believe this is a reasonable outcome,” Toyota spokesman Mike Michaels said of the settlement, which was revealed in court documents filed Tuesday.

The first shareholder lawsuit prompted by the sudden acceleration claims was filed in early 2010, and since then the cases have been narrowed to holders of Toyota stock traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The claims were consolidated in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Judge Dale Fischer has yet to approve the settlement.

In settling this case, Toyota removes another legal obstacle from its path. Last year, Toyota settled for $10 million a wrongful-death case brought by relatives of the family killed in San Diego.

But the Japanese automaker still faces numerous — and potentially far more costly —lawsuits related to sudden acceleration and other alleged safety problems.

Among them are multi-plaintiff state and federal cases alleging personal injury and death due to Toyota vehicles, as well as cases brought by consumers who contend that the value of their vehicles was diminished because of safety defects.

Those cases are set for trial starting early next year.