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Recalls Rising Fast; Over 400,000 Vehicles Added to 2012 Tally

Latest Targets: Mazda, Hyundai.

by on Jul.30, 2012

Hyundai's 2012-2013 Sonata is just one of the latest models facing a recall.

Taking its lead from Ford Motor Co., Mazda plans to recall more than 200,000 of its Tribute SUVs due to potentially sticky throttle cables that could cause the vehicles to race out of control.  Ford last week recalled the virtually identical Escape to deal with the same problem.

Meanwhile, Hyundai will recall another 200,000 Santa Fe and Sonata models to correct problems with their airbags that could make it difficult to react properly if a small adult is seated up front. The Korean carmaker also is recalling about 20,000 other vehicles due to a separate airbag problem.

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While year-over-year comparisons are not yet available, industry observers are noting a sharp run-up in recalls this year – even as various studies suggest the industry is producing its highest-quality vehicles ever.  But manufacturers have come under increasing pressure from regulators and consumer watchdogs to act fast when they discover potential safety problems that might have once been ignored or dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

The first of the newest recalls impacts Mazda Tribute SUVs built between the 2001 and 2006 model-years, as well as those from 2008.  And, as with the Ford recall, only those sport-utes equipped with the 3.0-liter V-6 are involved – a total of 217,500 vehicles.

Ford last week recalled 421,000 Escapes, though only from the 2001 through 2004 model-years.  As the vehicles are effectively identical it is unclear why the Mazda recall is covering a broader time period – and whether Ford might eventually be forced to expand its own callback which now covers 421,000 Escape utes.

The problem involves a cruise control cable that can become snag on the engine cover and stick wide open leading to a loss of vehicle control.  Though consumer groups had been complaining for several years about the issue the trigger appears to have been the decision by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to open an investigation into the vehicles as the result of receiving 68 complaints involving 13 accidents, nine injuries and one fatality.

The watchdog group, the Center for Auto Safety, has questioned the delay in the recall and whether the current fix will be enough to solve the problem. The CAS also wants NHTSA to fine Ford the maximum allowable $17 million for knowingly delaying a recall.

Under the law a manufacturer is required to act within five days after discovering a clear safety defect.  But Ford insists it only concluded there was a problem last week.

As for Hyundai, the maker will make repairs on Santa Fe SUVs and Sonata sedans produced between the 2007 and 2009 model-years because the airbag control system was improperly programmed and cannot accurately detect when a small adult is seated up front.  Modern airbag systems use sensors to detect not only when an accident occurs but with how much force to deploy in order to prevent inadvertent injuries that could be caused by the bag rather than the crash.

A total of 200,000 Hyundai Santa Fes and Sonatas will be impacted by the recall.

The Korean maker will also recall 22,500 of the latest-generation Sonatas, those produced in the 2012 and 2013 model-years, due to a separate airbag problem.  The maker has received 16 complaints indicating the vehicle’s side-impact airbags can fire without warning.

In all cases, the makers will complete repairs at no cost to consumers.

The surge in recall activity – with makers announcing one callback or another at a rate nudging several a week so far this year – raises questions about why so many problems are occurring among such a broad range of manufacturers.  No major brand has escaped untouched so far this year.

What is being debated is whether the industry is moving more quickly upon discovering potential safety problems – and are manufacturers ordering recalls for issues that might not have triggered such drastic action in the past?

There is little doubt the NHTSA has become tougher on the industry since 2009 when Toyota became enmeshed in a safety scandal that led it to recall millions of vehicles for a series of problems including so-called unintended acceleration. The federal agency, meanwhile, was embarrassed when internal Toyota documents leaked out indicating the maker had convinced overly compliant regulators to skip one possible recall that would have cost Toyota hundreds of millions of dollars.

During hearings on Capitol Hill in early 2010 regulators vowed to crack down on safety issues – which appears to be borne out by the surge in recent recall activity.

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2 Responses to “Recalls Rising Fast; Over 400,000 Vehicles Added to 2012 Tally”

  1. r123t says:

    I agree with all of the reasons stated in your article about the increasing number of recalls. What I didn’t see in the article, and what, as a 30-year veteran and retiree of the auto industry in the U.S., is any mention of the global supply system, i.e. the continued reliance by all automakers on suppliers constantly under the gun to produce at faster rates and lower cost, from various locations scattered all over the globe. Be it large concerns or small job-shop type operations, automakers of all stripes are unbelievably reliant on outside suppliers, and these suppliers come and go depending on costs and just-in-time delivery, and quite frankly, who can schmooze with whom on the golf course sometimes. While vertical integration and keeping production in-house seems like a thing of the past, and very much an anachronism, all automakers would benefit from tighter control through at least a small return to these means rather than outsourcing so much of the work.

    For my part, I stubbornly cling to the belief that the global supply chain leads to a lot of these recalls, simply because the auto companies relinquish a huge amount of control every time they outsource a part, and this leads to recalls. It is something that I saw first-hand in the last years that I worked before retirement, whether it be small rubber gaskets from Great Britain or the whipsawing-type competitiveness to obtain steel at low prices between the large steel companies which led to waste and lower quality.

    • Paul A. Eisenstein says:

      You have spotted a critical issue. Note the 2013 Ford Escape fuel line problem appears to have been caused by a supplier. Complicating matters is the increasing migration to global platform strategies that result in the common use of identical components in a wide variety of products, thus a recall that might have been limited to one model in the past now involves a wide number of vehicles, as is the case with the Toyota door fire issue caused by a common — and flawed — electric window motor.

      Paul A. Eisenstein
      Publisher, TheDetroitBureau.com