Recall management

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Barry Nielsen, automotive solutions director at consultancy Stericycle Expert Solutions, discusses the growing number of vehicle recalls and what can be done to prevent them

Recalls of motor vehicles rose higher than usual in Q1 2016, rising by 76% over the previous quarter according to the Stericycle Recall Index. This is a pattern that is set to continue. The designs of cars incorporate more and more components, so the potential for faults grows.

The automotive industry is all too aware of the scrutiny it is under from both customers and regulators, but the number of recalls and the attendant publicity do not properly reflect the commitment that manufacturers make to safety. When problems do happen, it’s primarily manufacturers that take action to address them. Of the 246 auto recalls during 2015, only nine were compulsory, the other 237 voluntarily initiated by manufacturers.

Strict regulations are one of the reasons that automotive recalls are on the rise, but at the same time the rules governing the testing of vehicles appear to be confusing and full of loopholes. Take emissions for example, a recent blog from Peter Mock at the Independent Council on clean transportation, explains that in Europe manufacturers are responsible for their own emissions testing and send the results to the type-approval authority, which rarely questions them.

However, following recent emissions scandals, tests in the UK have been investigated by the government and found to be sub-standard. No evidence of manipulation strategies or devices designed to evade emissions regulations were found and manufacturers had not broken any laws, which could have an impact on manufacturer’s decisions to recall cars on the basis of their emissions.

Another area where the risk posed to safety can’t be questioned is airbags, which have grabbed headlines in recent years and been the subject of recalls for many car manufacturers. Problems were clearly identified during the manufacturing and pre-testing process. An investigation by Reuters shows that persistent failures and pervasive defects emerged in pre-production quality testing over some years.

Even if pre-production testing is carried out and any defects addressed, that doesn’t necessarily mean that faults won’t occur at a later point, particularly after vehicles have been on the road for some time.

The possibility of a recall is something that car manufacturers have adjusted to, but not something they welcome. It is costly from a financial and reputational perspective, and it takes a long time to complete. Recognizing and alerting customers that there may be a problem with their vehicle is just the start of a process that often takes between 18 and 24 months, leaving cars and their technical faults on the road.

The recall landscape for the car manufacturing industry is complex, and set to get even more so as demand for connected cars grows, and components become ever more detailed and sophisticated. We can expect recalls to continue apace but it’s important to remember that behind every recall, there is a manufacturer striving to make its vehicles as safe as possible for the customer.

Stericycle Expert Solutions provides a comprehensive range of reputation management services worldwide. This includes global and local expertise before, during and after a recall threat. Nielson has over 15 years of experience in developing CRM and marketing solutions for global automotive brands and has a wealth of technical knowledge.

June 30, 2016

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