Toyota just got fined $17.35 m over floor mats

The auto-industry's top five biggest little mistakes.

Toyota has just sustained a whopping fine for not recalling a faulty product in time - these products being floor mats. The company has agreed to pay $17.35 m to the US government over concerns that a loose mat could press down on the accelerator pedal - involving the recall of 154,036 vehicles from 2010.

It's not the only car manufacturer to spoil the ship for a ha'porth of floor mat: here are four more of the auto-industry's biggest mistakes, via Investopedia:

1. The Ford failed safety catch of 1980

A little safety defect in Ford's transmission system meant that cars built between 1976 and 1980 could slip wilfully from "Park" to "Reverse". The resulting 6,000 accidents, 1,700 injuries and 98 deaths meant the recall of 21m vehicles and the loss of $1.7 bn.

2. The Takata seatbelt button of 1995.

The company had to recall 8.3 million vehicles after the button on the seatbelt was found prone to jam. By this time most auto-manufacturers were using these seatbelts, causing 931 consumer complaints as drivers got stuck in their seats. Estimated cost: $1 bn.

3. The Ford cruise control switch of 1996

There's a little electronic switch which deactivates cruise control after the  brakes are put on. This was faulty in Ford vehicles - starting fires. The company had to recall 14 million vehicles, costing them $280 m.

4. The Ford ignition ignition of 1996

1988-1993 models of Ford cars had switches which short-circuited, leading to fires, sometimes even when the car was turned off. The bill came to $200 m.

Toyota gets a whopping fine. Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty
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What price would the UK pay to stop Brexit?

The EU could end Britain's budget rebate and demand that we join the euro and the Schengen zone.

Among any group of Remain politicians, discussion soon turns to the likelihood of stopping Brexit. After Theresa May's electoral humbling, and the troubled start to the negotiations, those who oppose EU withdrawal are increasingly optimistic.

“I’m beginning to think that Brexit may never happen,” Vince Cable, the new Liberal Democrat leader, said recently. A growing number, including those who refuse to comment publicly, are of the same view. 

But conversation rarely progresses to the potential consequences of halting Brexit. The assumption that the UK could simply retain the status quo is an unsafe one. Much hinges on whether Article 50 is unilaterally revocable (a matter Britain might have been wise to resolve before triggering withdrawal.) Should the UK require the approval of the EU27 to halt Brexit (as some lawyers believe), or be forced to reapply for membership, Brussels would extract a price. 

Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, recently echoed French president Emmanuel Macron's declaration that “there is always a chance to reopen the door”. But he added: “Like Alice in Wonderland, not all the doors are the same. It will be a brand new door, with a new Europe, a Europe without rebates, without complexity, with real powers and with unity.”

The UK's £5bn budget rebate, achieved by Margaret Thatcher in 1984, has long been in the EU's sights. A demand to halt Brexit would provide the perfect pretext for its removal. 

As Verhofstadt's reference to “unity” implied, the UK's current opt-outs would also be threatened. At present, Britain (like Denmark) enjoys the right to retain its own currency and (like Ireland) an exemption from the passport-free Schengen travel zone. Were the UK to reapply for membership under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty, it would be automatically required to join the euro and to open its borders.

During last year's Labour leadership election, Owen Smith was candid enough to admit as much. “Potentially,” he replied when asked whether he would accept membership of the euro and the Schengen zone as the price of continued EU membership (a stance that would not have served Labour well in the general election.)

But despite the daily discussion of thwarting Brexit, politicians are rarely confronted by such trade-offs. Remaining within or rejoining the EU, like leaving, is not a cost-free option (though it may be the best available.) Until anti-Brexiteers acknowledge as much, they are vulnerable to the very charge they level at their opponents: that they inhabit a fantasy world. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.