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Feds Slap Toyota With a Fine That Won't Hurt

2010 Toyota Prius
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2010 Toyota Prius

As I was reporting the announcement of the Department of Transportation's fine against Toyota of $16.4 million, I kept thinking of the star athlete who makes gobs of money and is fined by the commissioner of the league for breaking a rule.

Sure it's a lot of money of in terms of what you and I make, but for Toyota this fine of $16.375 million is a slap on the wrist.

Consider the following.

Will the fine really hurt Toyota's bottom line?

No. These guys have between $25 and $30 billion in cash on hand. $16 million to them is like $100 speeding ticket to the rest of us. Annoying? Yes. Crippling? No.

Does the fine or the Secretary of Transportation saying Toyota "knowingly hid" defect information about sticky gas pedals change our perceptions of Toyota?

No. We've known for some time that Toyota had knowledge of sticky gas pedals for weeks and months before issuing a recall. This is not a "smoking gun" revelation,

Will the strong criticism by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood hurt Toyota's image and scare off prospective buyers?

I doubt it.

Last month Toyota sales rebounded thanks to hefty incentives and massive marketing. And that's when Toyota's recall crisis was at its worst. If people are still buying Toyota vehicles after that, they won't pay much attention to the criticism of Mr. LaHood.

Not to be a cynic, but at the end of the day, this fine by the DOT is more symbolic than anything else. Yes, it's the largest possible fine the Feds can throw at Toyota. Yes, the Secretary of Transportation essentially called out Toyota executives for dragging their feet on recalling sticky gas pedals. Yes, Secretary LaHood gave us another "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore" statement.

It doesn't change Toyota's situation.

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