Maybe it is just a coincidence, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened defect investigations into millions of non-Toyota vehicles last month.
The safety agency is under criticism, of course, for lack of action in the ongoing Toyota unintended acceleration matter, and faces at least two Congressional hearings (click here) over its conduct.
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Republican – Illinois, has vigorously defended NHTSA in the media, while attacking Toyota officials for their foot dragging on safety issues, including the sticking pedal recall that was just announced at the end of January.
That’s not going to be good enough for Congressmen who will want to know just what Toyota and NHTSA knew about the complaints and deaths, precisely when it was known, and why it took so long to do anything about it.
It turns out that while NHTSA was pressing Toyota for recalls and telling it to stop sales, it was also asking Ford Motor Company about airbags inadvertently blowing up and causing injuries to at least 66 people. Millions of Ford’s best-selling F150 pickup trucks are potentially affected covering 2004-2006 production.
NHTSA also has reports of at least 88 fires in previously recalled 2001-2004 Ford Escape and Mazda Tributes. In spite of repairs performed on almost 400,000 of the compact SUVs, the fires kept occuring. NHTSA is now questioning the effectiveness of the previous recall covering an ABS brake controller. Stay tuned for more on this.
The safety agency also queried General Motors about several potentially severe problems. One is the result of a petition calling for NHTSA to open an investigation into the performance/reliability of the fuel level sensor installed in model year 2005 Chevrolet Trailblazers. Reports of engine stalling, and possible rear-end accidents are alleged. If further action were taken, it would include not only 2005 and 2006 Trailblazers, but GMC Envoy models as well. More than 600,000 trucks could be affected.
More serious, perhaps, are the more than 1,000 reports of the loss of electronic power steering assist on 2005-2009 Chevrolet Cobalt models. Most of the complaints have been received during the past six months, and at least 11 of them allege that an accident resulted. NHTSA is now taking a closer look at the issue.
In fact, in the current environment, it looks like NHTSA is going to be more active, and less acquiescent toward automakers than it has been in the past. The web has made the gathering of information much easier. And publicizing problems results in yet more data, making it harder for automakers to dismiss customer concerns. The art and/or engineering science of this is deciding when a problem is large enough to justify a recall.