It was a week in which Ford
Toyota's Goldilocks problem
As we've learned in recent months, some Toyota products have had a problem with "unintended acceleration," a mysterious malady that causes them to go too fast. Now, in the umpty-zillionth Toyota recall of 2010, we learn about a new problem: The company this week recalled 50,000 Sequoia SUVs in the U.S. and Canada for -- wait for it -- going too slow.
There's even more irony in this one: Remember the Lexus SUV that was recalled after Consumer Reports busted it for an under-active electronic stability control system? The problem with the Sequoia is an over-active stability system, one that can prevent the vehicle from accelerating properly under certain conditions by automatically applying the brakes (and of course, not triggering the brake lights to warn other drivers). Unintended un-acceleration, in other words.
There are still plenty of Toyota owners who say their cars are just right. But at the rate it's going, maybe the company should just recall them all and get it over with.
Feds aren't gonna take it anymore
You may recall that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took some heat for the relatively measly $16.4 million fine Toyota paid in connection with the unintended-acceleration scandal, given the serious allegations that were made -- but it was the largest fine allowed by current law.
That may change shortly. Two separate bills currently moving through Congress would boost the budget of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, enhance safety standards -- and remove that cap on the fines that can be levied against automakers. Without that cap, Toyota's fine could have been as much as $13.8 billion.
X Prize trials under way
The X Prize Foundation -- the folks who offered a $10 million prize for a reusable space vehicle a few years back -- have put up another $10 million in prizes for "clean, production-capable vehicles that exceed 100 MPG energy equivalent."
The "shakedown stage" of the contest kicked off in Michigan, with 28 finalist teams preparing for a five-month challenge that includes strict safety and performance testing. Teams range from a Cornell University crew to serious start-ups like California's Aptera Motors -- which counts heavyweights A123 Systems
The winning teams in each of two categories -- "mainstream" and "alternative" -- will be announced in September.
Ford gets another boost
In another sign of Ford's recovery -- and another reminder that it still has work to do -- Fitch Ratings raised Ford's credit rating from "B-" to "B" on Thursday, citing the company's solid earnings and strong cash position. And Standard & Poor's changed its outlook for Ford from "stable" to "positive" and said there was a one-in-three chance that it could raise its ratings for Ford in the next year.
Returning to an "investment grade" credit rating -- BBB or above -- is a goal of Ford's management, one that they have acknowledged will likely take several years. But given Ford's levels of debt -- and its near-death experience in the not-yet-distant past -- even these small steps have to be seen as good signs by investors.
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Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. BorgWarner and Ford are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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