2 years after sudden acceleration woes, Toyota prospers

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Toyota sales are up 29% in the U.S. this year. The company is poised to reclaim its number one worldwide position from General Motors.

Toyota is waiting for a federal judge in Santa Ana to approve a massive billion dollar-plus settlement in a class action lawsuit brought by Toyota owners who alleged their vehicle lost value because of so-called sudden acceleration issues.

The settlement is one step, but not the final one, along a long path away from the car company’s worst nightmare: daily TV pictures of crashed Toyota vehicles that had inexplicably careened off the road.

Here's how Nightline host Terry Moran opened a January 2010 story about the acceleration problem: “Imagine the fear: You’re behind the wheel when your car speeds up without explanation, unable to stop, creating a potential death trap.”

At that time, many wondered if the mighty automaker could ever recover from a constant flood of negative stories. 

So far, the answer has been a resounding "yes."

“Toyota has had a phenomenal year,” said TrueCar.com Senior Analyst Kristen Anderson. “They’re up 29 percent year to date.”

That’s about double the average growth of car companies in the U.S. this year.

Globally, Toyota is projecting 2 percent sales growth next year, meaning it could reclaim the top spot from General Motors.

“Their product is as strong as it’s ever been,” said Anderson. “It’s a testament to their brand.”

A brand that remains in high demand, according to Norris Bishton, who owns Toyota dealerships in Marina del Rey and Garden Grove.

He says the sudden acceleration issues never affected his business. The real problem was last year’s earthquake and Tsunami in Japan.

“The Tsunami was a major hit because we didn’t have inventory,” said Bishton. “For a long time we really had nothing to sell.”

Bishton sees no impact on sales from this week’s settlement.

“Toyota customers are very loyal and they understand that when things come up, they will address them as they are doing with this settlement,” said Bishton.

This settlement is by no means the end of Toyota’s sudden acceleration woes. The automaker still faces wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits, and more than two-dozen state attorney generals are suing for unfair business practices.

Orange County also filed suit, alleging Toyota misled consumers. A representative for the Orange County District Attorney said discussions with Toyota are continuing.

The Newport Beach attorney hired by the D.A. to handle the case, Mark Robinson, did not return a call requesting for comment.

Edmunds.com analyst Ivan Drury says Toyota has tried to stay one step ahead by settling this class action that effects so many of its customers. It’s forking over a billion dollars even though, as the company repeatedly stresses, there’s never been any proof faulty electronics caused sudden acceleration.

“For them to pay, I think is really just to say ‘We’re going to make it right for the customers that did sell their cars,”’ said Drury. “They’re not admitting anything was wrong on their end. They’re trying to put the customers at ease because they value loyalty so highly.”

Loyalty that seems to been rewarded for Toyota. 

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