Media Moves

Coverage: More trouble for automakers

October 23, 2014

Posted by Liz Hester

The news that automakers have taken another hit means that car companies working to regain consumer trust have suffered another setback.  Airbags are now exploding, forcing car makers to recall them and consumers to realize that their cars aren’t as safe as they thought.

Jeff Bennett, Christopher M. Matthews and Christina Rogers had this story in The Wall Street Journal:

A suddenly expanded recall of air bags is turning into a new safety crisis for the auto industry and intensifying scrutiny of U.S. regulators’ ability to oversee auto makers and their suppliers.

The Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office is investigating whether air bag supplier Takata Corp. made misleading statements about the safety of its air bags to U.S. regulators, people familiar with the matter said. The probe is at a preliminary stage and could end without any charges filed.

Regulators this week nearly doubled their estimate of the number of U.S. vehicles affected, to 7.8 million, and said the figure could be revised again. The mostly older cars are equipped with air bags that could explode with too much force during a collision, spraying drivers and passengers with shrapnel, regulators have said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Wednesday issued a bulletin warning of defects in Takata air bags. Some auto makers are replacing air bags. At least two, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, said their vehicles on the agency’s list aren’t subject to a formal recall. A website the federal agency set up in August to help consumers determine if their cars were at risk has suffered crashes.

USA Today had a question-and-answer by Chris Woodyard that tried to answer some of what was on consumers’ minds:

Q: How do I know if I own one of the recalled cars?

A: In most cases you should have already received a notice in the mail. If you haven’t, don’t remember or may have lost it, both the maker of your vehicle and the government (at have tools that let you search by the vehicle’s unique vehicle identification number, or VIN, for its recall status. Be aware, though, that the government database site was down on Wednesday, so the maker would be your best opportunity.

Q: My car’s one of the recalled models. What should I do?

A: NHTSA urges you to immediately call a dealer for your brand and schedule a repair appointment. Some of the individual makers now advise not allowing a front-seat passenger until the repair is done.

A story by Hiroko Tabuchi and Christopher Jensenin The New York Times said that many companies had been working through issues related to airbags:

The auto industry is facing a safety crisis, spurred by revelations that General Motors failed for years to disclose a defective ignition switch that it has linked to at least 29 deaths. Automakers, as well as federal regulators, have responded with increasing urgency, recalling more than 50 million vehicles in the United States this year, shattering the record of about 30 million in 2004.

Airbags, particularly those made by Takata, have been one of the biggest and longest-simmering problems.

A New York Times investigation in September revealed that Honda and Takata had failed for years to take decisive action before issuing the recalls. Complaints received by regulators about various automakers blamed Takata airbags for at least 139 injuries, including 37 people who reported airbags that exploded, the investigation showed.

Takata did not immediately respond when asked how long it would take to provide replacement airbags. The company “will continue to fully support the N.H.T.S.A. investigation and our customers’ recalls,” a Takata spokesman, Alby Berman wrote, in an email.

Bloomberg’s Jeff Green and Craig Trudell reported that Congress was now involved in the inquiry:

The congressional investigators who dug into fatal defects in General Motors Co. (GM) and Toyota Motor Corp. cars are now asking U.S. safety regulators to brief them about potentially deadly air bags.

Staff from the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Michigan Republican Fred Upton, said yesterday that they had requested an explanation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about recalls of Takata Corp. (7312) air bags linked to four deaths.

That came a day after U.S. regulators expanded the number of vehicles they said were vulnerable by 3 million, to 7.8 million, and GM joined Toyota in warning people not to sit in front passenger seats. While NHTSA is urging people to be cautious, its website for checking your car’s status has been overwhelmed by heavy traffic.

“Auto safety continues to be a top priority for the committee, and our staff is continuing to monitor a number of issues before NHTSA, including these air-bag recalls,” according to the committee’s statement. “Staff has requested a briefing with NHTSA on the status of the Takata recalls and the agency’s investigation.”

Congressional scrutiny adds to the pressure on Takata and on automakers such as Honda Motor Co. (7267), Nissan Motor Co., GM and Toyota as recalls increase for air bags that can inflate with excessive force, sending metal fragments into vehicle occupants and causing death and serious injury. Honda alone has recalled 6 million vehicles globally since 2008 because of the flaw.

Consumers have lost a lot of trust in automakers recently, and this latest development isn’t helping matters. It’s not just American automakers having issues; it’s companies across the board. Communicating this to consumers and getting the right parts to fix the problem will be a challenge for all automakers.

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