This is the Morning Shift, our one-stop daily roundup of all the auto news that's actually important — all in one place at 9:00 AM. Or, you could spend all day waiting for other sites to parcel it out to you one story at a time. Isn't your time more important?
1st Gear: Toyota Dawdles, Gets Fingers Slapped
Reuters reports that the Transportation Department fined Toyota $17.35 million because it didn't respond quickly enough to a request for information about defects on Lexus models. While the amount is a record, it's essentially pocket change to a company like Toyota. It's basically equal to the revenue on about 347 Lexus RX 350s. That's one of the vehicles involved in the fine, the other is the RX 450h. In May, the government got in touch with Toyota after it noticed a trend of "floor mat entrapments" in owner questionnaires. Toyota was supposed to get back to the government in five business days, but it didn't respond until late the following month. When it did, it reported 63 incidents, and voluntarily recalled 154,036 2010 Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h vehicles.
Despite the fine, Toyota didn't admit any wrong doing. "We agreed to this settlement in order to avoid a time-consuming dispute and to focus fully on our shared commitment with NHTSA to keep drivers safe," Ray Tanguay, chief quality officer of Toyota North America, said in a statement. You might remember that Toyota was fined a total of $48.8 million in civil penalties in 2010 as a result of three separate investigations into its handling of millions of vehicle recalls. At the time, Toyota pledged to act faster and push responsibility for safety issues down into the organization, rather than wait for Japan to make a decision. Did something happen to that?
2nd Gear: Feds Are Also Scrutinizing Ford
In other recall news, Edmunds reports that the government has stepped up an investigation into pedal entrapment and floor mat issues on 450,000 Ford vehicles, including the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ. As you might expect, Ford is not happy about the move. "The accelerator pedal may fail to return to idle due to interference created by unsecured or double stacked floor mats in the driver's foot well," the government said in its summary of the defect investigation. It added: "A heel blocker in the floor pan provides a platform that may lift an unsecured mat into contact with the pedal."
Ford, however, says it has been warning customers not to stack the floor mats. It said the driver's mat in its set of all-weather floor mat has a warning label reading, "Do Not Place On Top of Existing Floor Mats."
Ford said it is not aware of any customer complaints when Ford all-weather floor mats were installed and secured properly. It said the agency had received 16 complaints, but NHTSA says it's received 52 complaints. Thus far, there are no accidents, injuries or fatalities related to the investigation.
3rd Gear: Fiat Tries An All Too Real Approach For The 500L
The Drum reports Fiat has launched a teaser Web ad in the UK for the 500L that you might want to watch after you've digested breakfast. It features a young mother posing with her kids and the car, and rapping about all the ickiness of her situation, from breast milk to poo to puke to body parts. Now, of course, the Brits love their cheeky humor, and there are lots of parents to whom this is all too familiar. But it seems a little ewwww for an American audience. I mean, we want cars to help us escape reality, right? We'll see whether The Motherhood ad goes viral or goes down in flames.
4th Gear: GM Gives A Woman A Big Job And A Big Budget
In more congratulatory female news, Automotive News reports General Motors has promoted Grace Lieblein, the head of its Brazilian operations, to become its global purchasing czar. She'll take the position immediately and oversee a $77 billion budget. Lieblein will report to GM vice chairman Steve Girsky. Aside from the fact that powerful women are still few and far between in the auto industry, Lieblein is going to be in a strategically important job as GM sorts out its European operations. Lieblein has run both GM's Brazilian and its Mexican operations. She has been with GM since 1978, when she signed on as a co-op student. Lieblein's primary job is dealing with GM's 3,000 suppliers worldwide. It's the kind of operations job that can lead to even bigger promotions, since the auto industry is more than the sum of its parts.
Reverse: One Final Step For Mankind
On this day in 1972, Apollo 17 returned to earth. It was the last manned lunar landing, and also the longest. Astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent 75 hours on the surface of the moon, driving around in the lunar rover and collecting 243 pounds of space rocks and soil samples. Isn't it interesting to think that all the in-person lunar exploration took place over three years, and that we haven't been back for 40 years? [History]
In keeping with our new discussion system, here's a place for you to own the floor. We're asking each day what you think about an issue that comes up in TMS.
Today, we'd like to know: should we go back to the moon? Could Richard Branson or Elon Musk get us there? Would you like to ride a rocket up there? Remember there's no right answer or wrong answer. It's Neutral.