Hyundai, Honda execs prepared for more scrutiny on safety

Mendel: "When you react without good thought, you get not the best outcome.”
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WASHINGTON -- General Motors’ ignition switch controversy inevitably will lead to greater regulatory scrutiny of auto safety defects, top executives from Honda and Hyundai say.

Dave Zuchowski, CEO of Hyundai Motor America, said Hyundai would welcome new steps to identify and fix safety problems faster, while John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co., expressed concerns about the wholesale release of raw safety data.

“Everybody wants to move so quickly because they don’t want to be viewed as not doing anything about it,” Mendel said during a panel discussion at the American International Automobile Dealers Association’s industry summit here on Thursday. “And unfortunately, usually, when you react without good thought, you get not the best outcome.”

Committees in the U.S. House and Senate have opened investigations into GM’s slow response to the faulty ignition switches used in vehicles such as the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion. The defects have been linked to 13 deaths and ultimately led to the recall of 2.6 million vehicles.

In March, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., introduced a bill that would expand the public’s access to the early-warning reports that automakers submit to U.S. safety regulators after crashes involving their vehicles. They argue that making the information available to the public, including safety advocates and plaintiffs’ attorneys, could unearth safety risks that would not otherwise be addressed.

Automakers review crash records to determine which crashes merit an early-warning report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Critics of Markey and Blumenthal’s proposal have warned that automakers may submit less information to NHTSA if they know it will become public.

Still, Zuchowski said, the industry should expect the GM crisis to lead to extra safety reporting requirements and oversight of automakers, just as the TREAD Act in 2000 followed the Ford-Firestone crisis.

“What’s at stake here is the safety of the consumers driving our products, and it’s sort of tough to argue against that,” Zuchowski said. “At the end of the day, we know it’s coming, and we actually welcome it because what we don’t want to happen is what happened with General Motors where there’s fatalities involved.”

You can reach Ryan Beene at rbeene@crain.com. -- Follow Ryan on Twitter

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