Automakers get mixed grades on Takata recalls at Senate hearing
WASHINGTON -- Automakers are doing a much better job repairing vehicles with open recalls for defective Takata airbag inflators after a slow initial response to news of their lethal potential, John Buretta, the independent monitor managing NHTSA’s Coordinated Remedy Program, told a Senate panel Tuesday.
But several lawmakers were highly critical of many companies and the nation’s auto safety agency for dragging their feet on the matter.
“NHTSA still seems to be playing a game of regulatory whack-a-mole and twiddling its thumbs when it comes to actually enforcing the coordinated recall approach and benchmarks for automakers,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., the Commerce Committee’s ranking member said.
The inflators have been responsible for 15 deaths in the United States and more than 200 injuries. The recall effort is the largest in U.S. automotive history, with an estimated 50 million defective inflators recalled so far in about 37 million vehicles, and another recall round expected to take the number up to 70 million inflators in 42 million vehicles through 2019.
The steel inflators can explode during an accident and spray metal shards at high velocity toward vehicle occupants.
NHTSA’s Coordinated Remedy Order schedule targeted replacement of inflators with the highest risk of rupture.
So far, less than half of the recalled inflators have been replaced, according to NHTSA.
“In the past, many affected vehicle manufacturers were slow to engage meaningfully and think strategically about how to maximize recall repairs and to deploy the kind of innovative recall techniques needed for the Takata recalls. More recently, there has been marked improvement, and the recall completion percentages are beginning to reflect this effort,” Buretta said.
Automakers are more willing to consider using multiple types of communication to notify consumers, mobile repair, engagement with independent repair facilities, and door-to-door canvassing to remove so-called “Alpha” inflators that are at high risk of malfunctioning due to moisture in high humidity areas, he said.
“Recent campaigns have achieved in just two quarters what previously took more than five, doubling and even tripling the rate of repairs. Vehicle manufacturers using frequent, multi-channel outreach have seen completion percentages nearly twice as high as rates for vehicle manufacturers using traditional letter outreach, when targeting similarly situated vehicles over the same period of time. More intensive dealer engagement is also yielding real improvements in repair rates,” Buretta told lawmakers.
“But there is still plenty of room for improvement, much work to be done, greater coordination to achieve, further resources to be deployed and more scale to be brought to initiatives that data and experience demonstrate make a real difference."
Honda pioneered house calls to get owners vehicles fixed, but Ford Motor Co., Fiat Chrysler and Mazda are now piloting the concept too, he added.
One of the biggest challenges for any recall is reaching owners with older cars, especially ones with second or third owners. Car companies and dealerships often don’t have contact information for these consumers, making it difficult to notify them unless they are aware of online search tools offered by manufacturers and NHTSA.
Buretta said the launch of the AirBagRecall.com website has made it easier for people to check the recall status of their vehicle because they only have to punch in a license plate number, or can use a mobile app to upload a photo from their smartphone.
Honda has completed repairs on 72 percent of recalled vehicles, according to the company and regulators.
Toyota’s recall completion rate is 61 percent, while FCA has a 41 percent completion rate.
Nelson, who has frequently complained that repairs are being completed faster, criticized Ford for its lower percentage of fixed vehicles under recall, saying it was because NHTSA allowed the automaker to delay repairs on more than 1 million recalled vehicles.
NHTSA’s website shows Ford’s recall completion rate at 46 percent.
“We are not satisfied and we are committed to contacting every owner,” Desi Ujkashevic, Ford's global director for automotive safety, testified.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.