When General Motors initiated the first major recall of the year last January, it triggered a tsunami of actions that had observers wondering not if the industry would break the record of 30.8 million, but by how much.
The answer, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is more than 100%. There were 63.95 million vehicles recalled last year in the U.S., surpassing the previous record set in 2004.
GM led the assault on the record with nearly 27 million vehicles and 84 recalls. The most public of those being related to faulty ignition switches on 2.6 million small cars built more than a decade ago. Those switches are the cause of 52 deaths and more than 70 injuries.
They also caused GM to take a long hard look at its engineering processes and try to change a cost-oriented environment to a culture of safety led by then-newly selected CEO Mary Barra.
While the ignition switch recall – an electrical problem, ultimately – may have been the most publicized, it was air bag defects that accounted for about a third of all vehicles recalled in 2014, or about 21 million.
That includes the recall of faulty airbags produced by Takata Corp. by 10 automakers in the U.S. In two separate recalls, Takata-made airbags and components account for more than half of those 21 million vehicles recalled.
Electrical system recalls were next on the list of recalls with 20.2 million vehicles, followed by powertrain issues at 3.9 million, according Stericycle, a firm that helps auto companies manage recalls and their images.
The new total marked the third consecutive year in which recalls rose. After dropping to 15.1 million in 2011, they rose to 16.49 million in 2012 and took a substantial leap in 2013 to 22.1 million vehicles.
NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said earlier this year the number could rise again this year. He told the Detroit News if automakers move faster to address concerns the number could go up.
(NHTSA needs more cash to enforce auto safety. For more, Click Here.)
“I think it is logical for us to expect that if we’re doing a better job with that, that we are going to see those numbers go up,” Rosekind said. “Eventually we want them to go down. … Unfortunately we’re still at the defect identification side and I think those numbers are going to go up until you start catching this stuff on the front end.”
NHTSA is also lobbying for additional money to help with investigation of potential problems. The agency, which is part of the Department of Transportation, operates on a miniscule budget and is actively backing the Obama Administration’s attempt to triple the funding for the agency’s Office of Defects Investigation from $10.7 million to $31 million.
(Click Here for details about Takata’s plans to ramp up replacement airbag production.)
“It’s no longer reasonable frankly to expect an office with 8 screeners and 16 defects investigators to adequately analyze 75,000 complaints a year,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters on a conference call recently.
If the budget is approved, the number of ODI personnel would increase from 28 to 56.5 full-time equivalent positions. Those positions would include hiring a mathematician, two statisticians, 16 engineers and four investigators. The administration wants to add 57 people to a staff of more than 100.
(To see more about 2014: The Year of the Recall, Click Here.)
NHTSA officials say they want increase the rate at which recalls are completed using better data mining and monitoring tools. With the additional resources, the agency might be able to live up to newly appointed Administrator Mark Rosekind’s goal is for the agency. “NHTSA needs to be the enforcer,” he said during his confirmation process last year.
Some of that leverage may come from another proposal about reforming the agency: increasing its power to levy fines from $35 million to $300 million for infractions.