Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Volkswagen recalls Audi Q7 for seat back defect.

The Automotive Fleet (9/27, 62K) reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced that Volkswagen “is recalling 19,205 2017-MY Audi Q7 SUVs because the third-row seat backs may not remain in position during a crash.” According to NHTSA, “the third-row seat backs may move forward under load in certain situations, such as during a frontal collision,” and increase the risk of injury to a passenger.

        Additional coverage is provided by Consumerist (9/27, 61K) and Car Connection (9/27, 144K). 

GM recalling Cadillac CT6 for seat belt defect.

The Automotive Fleet (9/27, 62K) reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced that General Motors “is recalling 131 2016 model-year Cadillac CT6 sedans because of a problem with the front-passenger seat belt.” NHTSA warns that “the bolt that connects the front passenger seat belt webbing to the seat’s anchor plate may be missing,” which can cause “the seat belt webbing” to possibly “detach from the seat anchor.” Due to this defect, “the seat belt ‘may not properly restrain the front seat passenger in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury,’” NHTSA wrote on its website.

        Additional coverage is provided by Carscoops (9/27, 7K). 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Takata failed to report 2003 airbag rupture to NHTSA, documents show.

The Hill (9/26, Zanona, 651K) reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released an internal report from Takata Corp. that “shows that the manufacturer did not inform U.S. safety regulators about” an incident in Switzerland in 2003 during which a Takata airbag inflator ruptured. NHTSA has issued Takata a fine “for not immediately reporting a known airbag safety defect,” but some lawmakers are calling for larger enforcement action.
        Automotive News (9/26, Welch, 185K) reports the documents released Friday also show “that of 245,000 recalled airbag inflators pulled from cars and tested, 660 ruptured,” illustrating “the risk to consumers who do not bring their cars in to have repairs performed or own vehicles that are not old enough to be eligible for the current round of replacement.”

        Additional coverage is provided by New York Daily News (9/26, Campbell, 3.83M), Cars (9/26, 897K), Detroit (MI) Bureau (9/26), and CNET News (9/26, 642K). 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Newly released memo suggests Ex-VW CEO knew of emissions deception before meeting with regulators.

Forbes (9/25, 14.92M) reports that Germany’s BILD Zeitung, citing a recently-uncovered July 30, 2015 Volkswagen memo, revealed that former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn knew of and instigated the attempted cover-up of the car manufacturer’s use of deceptive diesel emissions-testing software. BILD alleged that the memorandum evidenced that Winterkorn agreed to “partially” disclose details of the diesel engines’ “issues” in an informal meeting with CARB deputy executive Alberto Ayala.
        Bloomberg News (9/25, Donahue, 2.49M) adds that Winterkorn signed off to the plan on July 28, about seven weeks before US authorities unveiled Volkswagen’s emissions standards deception to the public. Winterkorn stepped down after the revelation and is now “the subject of a probe seeking to find out whether management was too slow to tell investors about the potential cost of the diesel-emissions scandal.”

        Audi CEO questioned in Volkswagen diesel emissions-cheating software probe. Reuters (9/23) reported American law firm Jones Day questioned Audi CEO Rupert Stadler earlier this week as a part of Volkswagen’s internal investigation into its diesel emissions test-cheating software. Reuters said that the supervisory board intended to discuss the findings of the inquiry on Friday; however, three sources familiar with the matter revealed that no evidence incriminated Stadler. 

New documents reveal Takata knew about airbag defects in 2003.

The Wall Street Journal (9/23, Spector, Subscription Publication, 6.37M) reports that a report released Friday shows that Japanese supplier Takata Corp. knew about the connection between its airbag design and safety risks back in 2003 but did not alert the authorities about tests in Switzerland that found the airbags could be deadly. A spokesperson for Takata said Friday that the company sends is “deepest” condolences to all “those who have been affected by the inflater failures.”

        Reuters (9/23, Shepardson, Lienert) reports “Takata also said in the report that its U.S. arm, not the parent company, was largely responsible for designing, testing and producing tens of millions of defective air bag inflators,” Reuters (9/23) also reports in a brief story. Law360 (9/23, Guarnaccia, 19K) also reports. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Governments New Highly Automated Vehicle Guidelines Fail to Protect the American Public

The recent guidelines published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NHTSA abdicate its mandate which would have resulted in thoughtful, thorough, national regulations that ensure, transparency, safety, and accountability, instead they are simply deffering to the industry to regulate itself and passing the buck down to the states. The guidelines clearly lack legally enforceable regulations and may allow the possibility of states  weakening  existing liability laws that protect consumers  and  permit manufacturers of unsafe and malfunctioning  vehicles to escape responsibility for harm caused when a highly automated vehicle (HAV)  crashes.
NHTSA must not delegate its regulatory responsibilities to the states. NHTSA must issue a minimum federal performance standard for Highly Automated Vehicles (HAV’s), and make clear there is no preemption. Designers and manufacturers must be held accountable for any harm HAVs cause.

This announcement should not be seen as an alternative to comprehensive safety standards, thorough oversight and strong enforcement. The promising benefits of HAVs are great, but the potential problems are too serious and the public safety risks are too momentous to be left to industry alone. Recent incidents involving the recall of tens of millions of vehicles and needless deaths and injuries due to faulty General Motors’ ignition switches, dangerous Takata airbags and cheating emissions systems in Volkswagen vehicles highlight how the industry easily conceals problems from both the public and the government.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) must use its federal regulatory authority to assure the American public of the safety of HAVs. Safety performance standards encourage competition among automotive companies because they help to assure a market for the real innovators and suppliers. The manufacturers always complain about new federal protections, but HAVs are a whole new technology with great promise but also with the potential for serious public harm.
The advent of this new technology and its release is happening so quickly that the NHTSA claims it is not ready to issue minimum regulatory performance standards. NHTSA has surrendered its Congressional mandate to manufacturers and the States. This is abhorrent of the National Traffic Safety Act. In doing so, it appears that we’re heading toward a hodge-podge of state regulations or no regulation whatsoever.
The addition of HAVs to the marketplace  represents a brand new area in which vehicle manufacturers will compete for sales.  There are billions of dollars of profits at stake. The more “autonomous” features that are offered, the greater the marketing opportunities. This certainly explains the frenzy of car companies to market each feature and to be the “first” with the “most” automated features.

Those who would market and profit from this technology – vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers – have organized major lobbying efforts suggesting that laws should be passed granting them immunity and shielding them from liability when injuries and deaths happen because of the failure of this new technology. They want taxpayers and state health care systems to fund their mistakes. That's not fair!

If corporations are confident that their highly automated vehicles will work properly and safely, why do they want immunity? Why should this industry get blanket protection?  Why should they even be worried about having to accept responsibility if their technology fails? Because history has proven that vehicle design changes, and especially those involving new technology, can cause injuries and deaths.

In their rush to introduce as many computer driven safety features as possible, and reap the profits of increased sales, car manufacturers must not put vehicles on our highways unless each feature has been properly designed and fully tested to be certain of their effectiveness.  To fail to do so would surely expose the motoring public to new and unidentifiable risks of injury and death.

Without well thought out regulations, the marketplace must  demand that each company that participates in the design, manufacture or sale of highly automated vehicles commit – publicly – to take full responsibility, including accepting legal liability – for collisions and their consequences when such features fail.

Given the extensive deference the NHTSA has shown to the industry when it comes to the safety of HAVs, the industry must chose to accept responsibility and accountability for the self-driving vehicles it puts on America’s highways and to which American citizens entrust the lives of our families. As companies work to develop HAVs and  collision avoidance technology (CAT) such as “lane departure warnings,” “lane departure steering control,” “auto brake features,” “frontal object detection,” “rearward object detection,” and “auto pilot,” it has become increasingly clear that consumers are totally reliant on manufacturer’s skills and willingness to provide the safest available systems. While the industries’ efforts, as well as the voluntary guidelines promulgated by NHTSA, are a good first step, countless safety concerns remain when it comes to HAVs and CAT that could expose consumers to unnecessary harm if they are not properly designed and fully tested. Recognizing this, every manufacturer should follow the lead of Volvo Cars, whose chief executive officer recently stated his company’s commitment:
Manufacturers should be held responsible if their autonomous technology causes car accidents. We are the suppliers of this technology and we are liable for everything the car is doing in autonomous mode.” –President and CEO Hakan Samuelsson, October, 2015.

          As HAVs become a reality, with the singular goal of making highway travel safer, it is vital that American consumers be able to trust that each manufacturer has made its vehicles safe and reliable. To this end,  every other vehicle and component manufacturer must join with Volvo Cars and make a public pledge to accept responsibility for harm and injury resulting from a collision that occurs because of the failure of an autonomous feature or when one of its automated systems either malfunctions or fails to perform as intended.  Absent such a pledge how can the NHTSA, the states and the American Public trust the safety of their families to these highly automated vehicles?

The guidelines do appear to indicate  DOT is planning to address these issues and seeking public comment for this new system of transportation; but it must not shy away from assuring public safety with minimum federal vehicle safety standards and means to hold manufactures responsible and accountable. It should not rely on mere guidance, deference to the industry and each individual state. NHTSA must not delegate its regulatory responsibilities to the states. NHTSA must issue a minimum federal performance standard for Highly Automated Vehicles (HAV’s), and make clear there is no preemption. Designers and manufacturers must  be held responsible and accountable for any caused when an HAV does not perform as intended or malfunctions.