U.S. auto recalls hit 63.95 million in 2014

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Automakers recalled a record 63.95 million vehicles last year in 803 campaigns, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday.

The tally more than doubled the previous record of 30.8 million set in 2004 — largely due to General Motors Co.'s recall of nearly 27 million vehicles in the United States. GM issued 84 recall campaigns and came under harsh criticism after its delayed recall of 2.6 million older cars for ignition defects that are linked to at least 52 deaths.

Air bag defects accounted for about a third of all vehicles recalled in 2014, or about 21 million, including recalls by 10 major automakers for defective Takata Corp. crash restraints. Electrical system recalls were next at 20.2 million vehicles, followed by powertrain issues at 3.9 million, according Stericycle, a firm that helps auto companies manage recalls and their images.

Ten major automakers have recalled more than 14.5 million vehicles since 2013 for potentially defective air bags made by Japanese supplier Takata — and automakers may be forced to recall more. This month, they issued a new recall of 2.3 million vehicles worldwide for an electronic glitch that could cause air bags to deploy without warning — including 1 million with Takata devices.

The government demanded a nationwide expansion of driver-side air bag recalls and Takata expanded the number of states where it says high humidity conditions could prompt air bags to explode and send deadly shrapnel flying.

Many automakers reported dramatically higher recalls in 2014 than 2013 — up from an industry total of 22.1 million in 632 campaigns. The previous high number of recall campaigns was in 2008 with 684.

Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said Thursday he doesn't think the record number of vehicle recalls are deterring people from buying cars and trucks. He said it hasn't impacted Americans confidence in buying vehicles.

"Look at where the market has been — we've had five years of growth," he said.

A trade group representing automakers said the recalls show carmakers were "moving fast."

"This shows how aggressive automakers are when it comes to safety," said Wade Newton, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. "More than four out of five recalls are initiated by manufacturers, so the numbers even further confirm that customer safety is the centerpiece of everything an automaker works on,"

The number of recalls rose last year for the third straight year.

In 2008, recalls fell to just 10.2 million vehicles before rising to 20.1 million in 2010 and then falling to 15.5 million in 2011. Automakers have recalled 605 million vehicles since 1966.

NHTSA didn't release its manufacturer breakdown Thursday.

■FCA US LLC said it recalled about 8.8 million vehicles in the United States last year in 39 campaigns — 2 million more than its record set in 2000 when it was a unit of DaimlerChrysler AG, the company said — and up from 36 recall campaigns covering 4.7 million vehicles in 2013.

■Honda Motor Co. said it also set a record for the most vehicles recalled in its history, calling back about 8.9 million vehicles.

■Ford Motor Co. said it issued 42 recalls covering 4.9 million vehicles — far from its record — but significantly more than in 2013 when there were 16 recalls covering 1.2 million vehicles.

■Toyota Motor Corp. said it had 24 recalls covering 6 million vehicles, compared with 15 recalls covering 5.3 million vehicles in 2013.

"These figures demonstrate the need for vigorous, effective oversight to remove safety defects from our highways," NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said.

Rosekind said previously the number of vehicles called back could increase this year. In a Detroit News interview this week, he stood by his comments that if automakers move faster to address concerns the number could go up.

"I think it is logical for us to expect that if we're doing a better job with that, that we are going to see those numbers go up," Rosekind said. "Eventually we want them to go down. ... Unfortunately we're still at the defect identification side and I think those numbers are going to go up until you start catching this stuff on the front end."

Sean Kane, president of Safety Research and Strategies, a group that works on auto safety issues, says electronic issues will continue to increase "given that the average age of vehicles on the road is 11 years" and vehicles get more complex.

Kane said as vehicles stay on the road longer more issues may arise.

"The good news is cars are lasting longer and longer," he said. "As these systems degrade over time you are going to see some pretty crazy stuff."

In addition, as the number of suppliers fall, the size of recalls may get bigger as problematic parts are in a rising number of autos. "As a result, you are going to get big recalls," Kane said.

The GM and Takata recalls prompted six hearings in Congress and became one of the biggest business stories of 2014, costing automakers billions in additional costs while raising questions about whether NHTSA has the resources and legal authority to prompt fast action on vehicle defects. Congress quickly confirmed Rosekind, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, to fill the top job at NHTSA that had been vacant for nearly a year.

The White House wants to triple NHTSA's defect investigations budget and more than double the personnel. Rosekind wants two new safety divisions to help spot defects earlier. The agency came under harsh criticism from Congress and safety advocates for not discovering GM's recall problems earlier.

NHTSA has taken a much more aggressive stance in recent months, prodding automakers to recall vehicles they don't think need to be fixed and issued more than $120 million in fines for failing to recall vehicles in a timely fashion. The agency wants Congress to boost the maximum delayed recall fine to $300 million, up from the current $35 million and get sweeping authority to get unsafe vehicles off the road faster.

The agency said 123 vehicle recall campaigns were influenced by the agency's investigation and enforcement efforts. The 19.1 million vehicles covered by NHTSA-influenced recalls is the highest since 1981.

NHTSA also noted that in 2014 there were five child safety seat recalls covering 7.6 million seats, the highest number of recalled seats ever. All but 16,655 of those seats were recalled in NHTSA-influenced actions, making it a record year for NHTSA-prompted child safety seat recalls.


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