By Saraya Wintersmith
Auto giants General Motors (GM) and Honda Motor Co. both issued vehicle recalls last month, but the circumstances surrounding the two company’s repair response are a seem to contrast. Honda issued a single voluntary recall that affects about 880,000 minivans. GM, however, issued several recalls last month that affect more than 3.1 million U.S. manufactured vehicles. The GM incidents were announced within weeks of one another, and came on the heels of a large-scale recall which some believe was shrouded in negligence and secrecy.
For Honda, the process began in late 2012 when the company noticed a high demand of fuel pump replacement parts for the Odyssey. Customers were getting pumps replaced, complaining of deteriorated pumps and fuel leaks. A year and a half of internal investigations revealed that when combined with certain acidic compounds, material in the fuel pumps were subject to cracking. Even though there have been no injury claims Honda definitively determined that the fuel pump defect was an increased safety risk early last month.
Honda spokesperson Chris Martin says the company owes its swift reaction to a robust data gathering system and close product monitoring. “The far majority of recalls that we issue result from us notifying NHTSA of safety issues that we’ve identified.” Martin says even though there have been less than 200 warranty claims without injuries, fires or deaths related to the Odyssey fuel pump, it’s best to yield to federal regulations. “In a lot of ways, we have to assume the worse case scenario in many of these instances. We have to analyze the potential safety aspect of each repair – most of them are things that wouldn’t impair safety. There are some things that are borderline, but in the end it’s best to err on the side of caution. Even in a small population of vehicles there’s the potential for safety risk.”
The Odyssey vehicles are no longer in production and Honda has issued a Stop Sale order.
The parts necessary for repairs are slated to become available in summer 2014 – according to a March press release from Honda.
GM’s controversy surfaced last month when it issued the initial recall of 1.6 million vehicles with potentially faulty ignition switches. In certain models of Chevrolet Cobalt, Pontiac G5, Chevrolet HHR, Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Ion and Saturn Sky vehicles, weight on a key ring, or jarring road conditions can trigger the ignition to move into accessory mode, turn off the engine and disable airbags – increasing the risk of injury. Even though, GM initiated the recall last month, documents show the company was aware of the problem as early as 2005 when it began sending service bulletins to dealers with additional fixture remedies. GM’s has yet to publish an official chronology of when the defect was identified, tracked and investigated. Clarence Ditlow heads the Center for Auto Safety and criticizes both GM and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. He says either could’ve prevented crashes and fatalities through aggressive evaluation and earlier issuing of a recall.
“Regardless of whether the government opens an investigation and orders a recall – which we believe the government had sufficient information to do by 2007 – that doesn’t excuse GM from their duty to do a recall under the 1966 Safety Act.” Ditlow’s organization commissioned a study following GM’s first recall. The study takes its information from a large government database that records all fatal crashes in the U.S. The study found there were more than 300 fatalities in cars with airbag failure. Ditlow asserts GM’s ignition defect is responsible for more than the 12 deaths the company has acknowledged. The airbag is your last line of defense in a crash and it should never fail,” he said in an interview with Fox Detroit. “To have 303 deaths in these vehicles where the airbag didn’t deploy, that’s just simply appalling. Some of those deaths – we don’t know how many – certainly not all 303, but it’s far more than the 12, or 13 that GM claims.”
GM CEO Mary Barra responded by issuing the additional recalls of certain models of GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express vans, Cadillac XTS luxury sedans and Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook crossovers for separate problems. In a statement issued to GM employees last month, Barra asserted the company is using the situation as an incentive to review its policies. “This announcement underscores the focus we’re putting on safety and peace of mind for our customers,” said Barra. Our system for deciding and managing recalls is going to change because of this. We are completely focused on the problem at the highest levels of the company and we are putting the customer first as guiding every decision we make. We are conducting an intense review of our internal processes and we will have more developments to announce as we move forward.”
Barra also appointed long-time GM engineer Jeff Boyer to the newly created Vice President of Global Safety position, last month. “This new role elevates and integrates our safety process under a single leader so we can set a new standard for customer safety with more rigorous accountability,” Ms. Barra said in a statement according to The Wall Street Journal. “If there are any obstacles in his way, Jeff has the authority to clear them. If he needs any additional resources, he will get them.”
But auto-industry watchdog Ditlow is not convinced the company will make good on its promise to prioritize customer safety. “It remains to be seen whether this is a short-term response to the Cobalt airbag ignition switch crisis, or whether this is a long-term change,” Ditlow said in an exclusive interview with The Capital News. “It certainly is a step in the right direction, but we want to see how this implements over the years and General Motors can’t afford to make additional mistakes.”
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR CAR IS RECALLED:
When your vehicle is recalled, manufacturers must try to notify owners of recalled products. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration safety recall website, “even if you do not receive a notification, if your vehicle, child restraint, or other item of equipment is involved in a safety recall, the manufacturer is obligated to provide a free remedy.” If you do not receive a letter of notification from the vehicle manufacturer but think that your vehicle might be involved in a recall campaign, call the Vehicle Safety Hotline at 888-327-4236 or 800-424-9393, visit the NHTSA www.safercar.gov Web site, or contact the manufacturer, or your dealer.