NHTSA chief to meet with GM, Ford CEOs in Detroit

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington – — The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will meet with the CEOs of General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. on Thursday during a trip to the Detroit area to discuss recalls.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind also will meet with senior Fiat Chrysler executives in Auburn Hills, but CEO Sergio Marchionne is in Europe and is not available.

Rosekind said this is his first trip to Detroit to establish connections and see safety advances. He vows more trips.

“One of the things I’ve emphasized ... is that I want to have direct communication. If there are issues, I want to be able to call them or they can call me — that just doing this through headlines for example or reading a press release is not the way for us to talk about a recall issue or a defect,” Rosekind said in a Detroit News interview.

Last week, Rosekind called Ford Motor Co.’s vice president overseeing auto safety to prod the company to expand a planned regional recall of faulty door latches; the automaker agreed. He said is going to tell Ford CEO Mark Fields that the direct talks “worked” and company executives did a “great job” to resolve the issue.

Ford agreed to recall 390,000 cars for faulty door latches linked to two minor injuries and an accident. It was the latest in a series of callbacks for latch issues.

Rosekind said he expects to decide within the next two weeks whether NHTSA will reopen its probe into 2.7 million older Jeeps linked to more than 50 fires; it comes after a $150 million verdict in a Jeep fire in the death of a 4-year-old. He said he is looking at whether to reopen the investigation as well as other enforcement issues.

Rosekind held an all-day event on Tuesday in Washington with automakers and others in a bid to boost recall completion rates. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — the trade group representing Detroit’s Big Three automakers, Toyota Motor Corp., Volkswagen AG and others — said it is conducting research to improve recall completion rates.

“We want every consumer who gets a recall notice to take his or her vehicle to be repaired,” said Mitch Bainwol, president and CEO of the group. “It’s important for us to fully understand what the critical first step is to motivate more people to bring in their vehicles for service. We know that vehicle age seems to be an important factor, but little research has been conducted on consumer attitudes to recalls.”

The average completion rate for passenger vehicle recalls is 75 percent, but the rate varies based on the age of vehicles. The completion rate is 83 percent for newer vehicles, but falls to 44 percent for vehicles five to 10 years old. The completion rate drops to 15 percent for vehicles older than 10 years.

Automakers issued a record-setting 803 recalls involving 63.9 million vehicles in 2014, including two of the largest vehicle recalls in history.