NHTSA will begin using predictive analytics to determine when safety-related auto parts will likely fail on older vehicles to improve the government's ability to make decisions on future recalls.
The nation's top auto safety regulator currently relies on warranty data, as well as customer complaints, to track product failures as they surface. But the administration's Office of Defect Investigations has contracted with the Ann Arbor, Mich., data analysis firm We Predict to probe deeper into available industry information.
We Predict CEO James Davies said Wednesday the company has received a $2.9 million contract to provide NHTSA with a flow of predictive automotive failure frequency data. The new data will give safety officials visibility into the repair activity of tens of millions of older vehicles on the road, far beyond their warranty periods.
The larger the body of active data that officials can examine, the more accurately they can detect emerging trends in parts failures, allowing them to predict a problem area.
The move extends NHTSA's view of potential safety problems to vehicles with up to 15 years of service. We Predict collects the service activity records of hundreds of millions of vehicles from auto dealers and independent service centers. It processes the data through proprietary means to predict quality issues for almost every vehicle make.
"For the people who are making the decisions of whether to recall a product, it will give them an increased view of the full life cycle of vehicles on the road," Davies told Automotive News. "That hasn't been available before. It's a broader base of data."
Safety officials and manufacturers have limited information on the performance of vehicles and parts over their full life cycle.
"Manufacturers can lose sight of a model when it drops out of warranty coverage and the owner begins going to independent service," he said.
On one hand, supplying government authorities with more product data increases NHTSA's influence over the auto industry. But Davies said it will also benefit manufacturers.
"There are instances in the past where a manufacturer found itself in a multimillion-dollar legal settlement over a problem that they were genuinely unaware of.
"We're not changing the system," Davies said. "Those failures are going to happen anyway. We're just enabling prevention."