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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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.