Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is making good on his plan to shake up the automotive world. Recently, the chief safety regulator told reporters that he planned to take a more proactive stance on involvement with the auto industry that would evolve into the establishment of a safety culture. He also announced a June summit with automotive chiefs at that time.
However, the safety chief apparently wants to move the industry along that path more quickly, so he is in Detroit through tomorrow for talks with the heads of Ford Motor Co. and General Motors. Sergio Marchionne, head of Fiat-Chrysler Automotive (FCA), is in Europe this week and unavailable. His first trip to the Motor City, Rosekind, instead, planned to meet with senior executives of FCA. During the talks today and tomorrow, Rosekind will address recalls, the Detroit News said in yesterday’s editions.
In an interview with the newspaper, Rosekind said that he wanted to have “direct communication. If there are issues, I want to be able to call them, or they can call me.” He emphasized that using media campaigns to address issues “is not the way for us to talk about a recall issue or defect.”
For example, last week, the chief safety regulator contacted the senior Ford executive, charged with heading up Ford’s current major door latch recall. The automaker has recalled nearly 390,000 vehicles over a latch defect that can leave a car door flying open. To date, there have been 658 complaints either to the automaker or NHTSA and there have been 1,070 warranty claims for the issue, USA Today said yesterday. NHTSA has received 65 reports of passenger doors flying open with the vehicles, built in Mexico, were in motion. The vehicles involved in the recall are Ford Fusions, Lincoln MKZs, and Ford Fiestas. As a result of Rosekind’s direct intervention, the automaker announced plans to expand the recall from regional to national. Rosekind indicated that he would tell Ford CEO Mark Fields he was pleased with Ford’s quick action and he further said he would indicate the direct action works.
Taking the strongest agency stance on safety in many years, Rosekind also held a day-long meeting yesterday in Washington where he discussed recall completion rates with representatives of the auto industry and others. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) indicated to the Detroit News that it was also conducting research into improving recall rates. AAM is the auto industry’s major lobbying group in the capital. It represents the Big Three automakers, Toyota, Volkswagen and others.
AAM President and CEO Mitch Bainwol said in an interview that the industry has to understand the factors that get consumers to act on recalls. “We know that vehicle age” for example “seems to be an important factor,” he said. However, there has been little further in-depth research on consumer attitudes to recalls. He also said that it was important for AAM to assure that “every consumer who gets a recall notice to take his or her vehicle” in for repair.
Yesterday’s meeting followed an NHTSA announcement last week that indicated the agency would have a decision within two weeks on whether it would revive a recall of more than 2.7 million older Jeeps for fuel tank problems. Last week’s announcement came on the heels of a $150 ruling against FCA in a suit involving a fuel tank. The suit was in connection with the death of a four-year-old boy. To date, there have also been reports of more than 50 fires related to the fuel tank defect. Rosekind also indicated that the agency was looking into reopening other major recalls.