“A buzzard took a monkey for a ride in the air,” as the song goes. That story doesn’t end well. But it could be about the mutual choke hold between technology and record numbers of auto recalls over the past year, most having to do with Takata airbags, and many having to do with safety technology in general.
There were almost 64 million vehicle recalls last year. That is a milestone of the kind you don't want to reach. A couple of weeks ago, the Detroit News reported that this year will clock in well below that, but still above the second biggest recall year in 2004, when the industry sent “E.T., come home” notes to nearly 31 million car and truck owners.
The newspaper noted that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had recalled more than 32.4 million vehicles through early August. The story points out that Fiat Chrysler accounts for nearly a third of those, with Takata accounting for four million of Chrysler’s callbacks.
This is one of the reasons FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne has been courting GM to be a partner. The automaker, to whom NHTSA has gifted a record $105 million fine, is facing a new recall of 1.4 million vehicles over something really novel that will probably hit the rest of the pack: their cars and SUVs can apparently be hacked.
That was demonstrated with high drama by a couple of guys who hacked into a Jeep Grand Cherokee via the internet and made it behave pretty much like a possessed child. Those two guys were just hired as white hats by digital car service purveyor Uber.
While automakers have cars with more airbags than a hovercraft and more proactive safety gadgets than a nuclear sub, what they don’t have is a better system recall management. I just saw a report from Deloitte: about how 42.3% of auto executives expect more industry recalls this year and next, but nearly a quarter of automakers have no product safety and recall “anticipatory analytic capabilities.”
As Deloitte Advisory director Robert Biskup points out, while technology exists to let manufacturers identify safety and quality issues potentially before they happen, and while regulatory scrutiny is way up, automakers don't seem to be ahead of problems.
That, per Derek Snaidauf, Deloitte Advisory senior manager in advanced analytics, is because automakers still take a “rearview-mirror” reactive approach to quality and safety. But “leading OEMs are starting to adopt innovative analytic capabilities like proactive sensing for early issue identification and command centers for campaign management.”
They had better accelerate. The next big issue may be keyless ignition, another safety catastrophe in the making, as 10 automakers (with five million or so vehicles involved) are being hauled into court over claims that keyless ignition is inherently dangerous. The suit says the lack of an idle timer caused 13 deaths by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Affected are BMW, Daimler, FCA, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen, plus their related brands like Acura, Infiniti, Mini, and Lexus. In all, over five million vehicles are affected. Because of this very issue GM earlier this year recalled over 64,000 Chevrolet Volts. Perhaps it's time to go back to seat belts, car keys, and eight-tracks.