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Car companies vent Takata recall concerns

Big bang: The logistics of replacing more than a million airbags in a short time frame has motor companies on the rev limiter.

ACCC hears motor industry worries over $1 billion compulsory airbag recall

General News logo10 Oct 2017

By RON HAMMERTON

MOTOR companies hope Australia’s consumer watchdog will take “a more considered and targeted approach” to its proposed compulsory recall of Takata airbags after industry representatives spelled out their concerns at a meeting called by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in Melbourne on Monday.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) and at least 14 motor companies were represented at the meeting with the ACCC in a packed room behind closed doors where they vented their problems with the draft recall notice that would involve the recall of more than a million vehicles – the biggest compulsory recall in Australian automotive history.

Expected to cost the companies collectively more than $1 billion, the recall initiated by the ACCC is set to go to federal small business minister Michael McCormack to be signed into law within weeks.

Takata airbag inflators have been linked with 19 deaths worldwide – including one in Australia – due to faults that can include failing to detonate and exploding metal canisters that send shards of steel into the cabin when the airbag deploys.

The ACCC is unhappy with the completion rate of the voluntary recall system employed by the motor industry which it says has fixed only 38 per cent or 955,000 of the 2.49 million cars recalled since 2009.

One unnamed car company was said to have a completion rate of just 17 per cent.

On top of that, a further 877,000 vehicles sold with Takata airbags made in Europe and fitted to Audi, Ford, Jaguar, Volkswagen, Holden, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Tesla cars have now been included in the recall.

In a statement today, Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific said its testing had shown that Takata airbags in Mercedes cars and vans posed no risk of injury, but said it was planning to arrange a voluntary safety recall under the FCAI guidelines regardless.

It said the recall would be subject to “an orderly timetable that considers the supply of parts and logistical capacities”.

Mercedes-Benz Aust/Pac public relations, product and corporate communications senior manager David McCarthy said Mercedes had been working towards its own “superior solution” to the airbag issue since 2015.

He said this solution – which he said he was not at liberty to disclose – would become available in the second quarter of 2018.

“We think it would make sense to wait until then to replace the Takata airbags – which our tests have shown are no danger to anybody in our cars – with our superior unit,” he said.

“We will, of course, comply with any request made by the responsible minister, and we will carry out the appropriate measures in Australia.”

Yesterday, Jaguar Land Rover Australia also announced plans for a voluntary recall.

Car companies involved in previous recalls – Honda, Toyota, BMW, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Lexus, Jeep, Nissan, Chrysler, Dodge, Ferrari and Mazda – say they are doing everything possible to locate owners of affected cars and encourage them to bring their vehicles in for replacement airbag inflators.

If the draft provisions of the recall notice are passed into law, car companies will, in the case of the most dangerous Alpha Takata airbags fitted to an estimated 51,000 cars, be required to recall affected cars immediately once the action is gazetted and then, once contacted by the vehicle’s owner, replace the airbags by the following business day.

They must also tow or truck the affected vehicle to the workshop and offer a loan or hire car for the duration of the repair.

If they fail to meet these obligations, the vehicle owner can require the motor company to buy back the vehicle at used market value.

Less problematic Takata airbags have less stringent recall requirements, with car companies given either one month or five years to complete the replacement.

Among the problems cited by motor company representatives at the closed meeting on Monday included their inability to track all owners of affected cars, especially those sold on the second-hand market and in wreckers’ yards.

GoAuto has been told that car companies believe the federal government should enlist the help of state vehicle registration authorities to track down all affected vehicles via their databases.

They also voiced concern that they could be held legally responsible for cars that are not fixed, even when owners could not be traced or refused to arrange repair of their car.

Logistical issues were also high on the list of concerns, including the ability to source such a vast number of airbags in the time required, along with finding service technicians to fit them.

“The degree of complexity in all this is huge,” one car company source told GoAuto. “It is not a case of ‘one size fits all’. The ACCC has to get their head around that.”

FCAI chief executive Tony Weber was among the industry representatives at Monday’s meeting, later describing it as constructive.

In a statement to GoAuto today, the FCAI said it thought it highly useful in that the ACCC was able to hear directly from industry and airbag technology experts about the range of issues involved.

“The FCAI is hopeful that the information that was provided to the ACCC will allow a more considered and targeted approach involving both government and industry working collaboratively to address this important safety issue,” it said.

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