As of last week, 25.3 million vehicles in the U.S. had been recalled1. In the meantime, GM sent notice that it is recalling an additional 3.36 million vehicles2. The reason for this recall – an ignition switch defect.
In fact, 1 out of 10 vehicles on the road in the United States has been recalled this year. Just to clarify, that’s not 1 out of 10 vehicles sold this year but literally 1 out of every 10 vehicles currently registered across all makes and models. When I read that statistic, I literally gasped. To be fair, many vehicles are recalled each year for reasons that are far less serious than an ignition switch that can turn off and disable critical safety systems like airbags. For example, some Ford Taurus cars were recalled for a license plate lamp assembly that may get corroded due to water intrusion.
Federal legislators are looking into GM’s handling of their initial recall earlier this year related to faulty ignition switches and have certainly given Mary Barra a grilling on Capitol Hill. I certainly do not envy the position that she’s in.
One of the questions that comes up a lot in discussions with other members of the Automotive IQ team is ‘What is going on in the auto industry?’ This is an incredibly loaded question and it would be unfair to generalize about car manufacturers in general. That said, I see three major issues that have contributed to this ‘year of the recall.’
- Some manufacturers have retained a culture that was not focused on product safety and instead employed a defensive strategy of damage mitigation. In some companies, employees did not fear being fired for their failure to act in the interest of safety.
- In some cases, the large recalls involve very high-tech electronic systems. The auto industry is at a very exciting crossroads where a lot of potentially disruptive technologies are emerging. Technologies that will lead to more automated driving experiences that attempt to remove the error inherent to a real person driving are being integrated into modern vehicles. These technologies are still in their infancy and it’s normal that there are some bugs to work out.
- Global supply chain problems. The Aston Martin accelerator pedal recall earlier this year was a prime example of how possible it is to lose control of the quality of a supply chain. As supply chains become more global and take advantage of prices in emerging markets, it is increasingly important for the one with ultimate responsibility over the product (the OEM) to have oversight.
One of the unfortunate side-effects of having so many very public recalls in such a short period of time is that it begins to normalize the problem and de-sensitize consumers. Ultimately, the power to change the industry lies with the consumer.