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
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Sooner or later, a British university is going to go bankrupt

Theresa May's anti-immigration policies will have a big impact - and no-one is talking about it. 

The most effective way to regenerate somewhere? Build a university there. Of all the bits of the public sector, they have the most beneficial local effects – they create, near-instantly, a constellation of jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Don’t forget that the housing crisis in England’s great cities is the jobs crisis everywhere else: universities not only attract students but create graduate employment, both through directly working for the university or servicing its students and staff.

In the United Kingdom, when you look at the renaissance of England’s cities from the 1990s to the present day, universities are often unnoticed and uncelebrated but they are always at the heart of the picture.

And crucial to their funding: the high fees of overseas students. Thanks to the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge in television and film, the wide spread of English around the world, and the soft power of the BBC, particularly the World Service,  an education at a British university is highly prized around of the world. Add to that the fact that higher education is something that Britain does well and the conditions for financially secure development of regional centres of growth and jobs – supposedly the tentpole of Theresa May’s agenda – are all in place.

But at the Home Office, May did more to stop the flow of foreign students into higher education in Britain than any other minister since the Second World War. Under May, that department did its utmost to reduce the number of overseas students, despite opposition both from BIS, then responsible for higher education, and the Treasury, then supremely powerful under the leadership of George Osborne.

That’s the hidden story in today’s Office of National Statistics figures showing a drop in the number of international students. Even small falls in the number of international students has big repercussions for student funding. Take the University of Hull – one in six students are international students. But remove their contribution in fees and the University’s finances would instantly go from surplus into deficit. At Imperial, international students make up a third of the student population – but contribute 56 per cent of student fee income.

Bluntly – if May continues to reduce student numbers, the end result is going to be a university going bust, with massive knock-on effects, not only for research enterprise but for the local economies of the surrounding area.

And that’s the trajectory under David Cameron, when the Home Office’s instincts faced strong countervailing pressure from a powerful Treasury and a department for Business, Innovation and Skills that for most of his premiership hosted a vocal Liberal Democrat who needed to be mollified. There’s every reason to believe that the Cameron-era trajectory will accelerate, rather than decline, now that May is at the Treasury, the new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy doesn’t even have responsibility for higher education anymore. (That’s back at the Department for Education, where the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, is a May loyalist.)

We talk about the pressures in the NHS or in care, and those, too, are warning lights in the British state. But watch out too, for a university that needs to be bailed out before long. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.