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Automakers commit to ‘historic’ safety efforts

Michael Wayland and Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Senior executives from 17 of the world’s leading automotive companies met with federal officials in Detroit on Friday to cement an agreement aimed to collaboratively enhance safety efforts in the United States.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and National Highway Traffic and Safety Administrator Mark Rosekind met with several auto executives: General Motors Co. CEO and Chairman Mary Barra, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV CEO Sergio Marchionne, Hyundai Motor America President and CEO David Zuchowski, Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz and others.

No definitive actions were announced but executives and federal officials categorized the agreement as “historic,” “unprecedented” and a road map for the industry and federal officials moving forward.

“These commitments we make today will help catch safety defects before they explode into massive recalls,” Foxx told reporters following the roughly 30-minute private meeting. “They will help improve the quality of data that automakers and NHTSA analyze to seek defects today.”

Foxx said the agreement sets broad ranging actions to help make roads safer and “help avoid a safety crisis that generates the wrong kind of record-setting and penalties.”

The agreement pledges to work collaboratively, consistent with the law, to further enhance automotive safety for customers. The four guiding principles of the creed include: (1) Enhance and facilitate proactive safety, (2) Enhance analysis and examination of early warning reporting data, (3) maximize safety recall participation rates and (4) enhance automotive cybersecurity.

Implementation of the measures center around data-driven analytics and sharing industry-best practices, including examining the shared safety processes of the aviation industry to determine if the automotive sector could do the same.

“It’s always better to prevent crashes or recalls from happening than to have to react to them,” he told The Detroit News, adding there will be many more meetings to come. “If we can turn the corner here, it’s good for everybody.”

The Friday meeting was to finalize the accord following a meeting that occurred in December in Washington, D.C., that began the discussions. Foxx told The Detroit News there will be “many more” meeting to come.

Senior executives with several companies said the actions outlined on Friday should not be taken lightly.

Marchionne described the new agreement as a “phenomenal thing” that was driven by Foxx’s approach to get everyone together: “Don’t underestimate what happened today. I think you’ll see a huge change going forward.”

Barra said she believes the industry could look back “and see this was very historical.”

“I think that the industry coming together, we’re proud to be a part of this, working on some common best practices. I think it’s going to advance everyone,” she told reporters following the announcement. “I see it as a real opportunity and a foundation that we can build on.”

Hyundai’s Zuchowski said the agreement is a “starting point,” however said there remain many challenges ahead to determine what information automaker share with each other.

“You want to have competitive advantage, but you don’t want to spend 18 different investments by 18 OEMs on exactly the same technology,” he said. “That’s one of the things we have to work through.”

Separately, prior to the meeting, Marchionne said the industry as a whole must provide clarity about the industry’s future to help consumers and investors better understand the ongoing changes occurring in the industry, including connectivity and autonomous vehicles.

“I think that there’s a real lack of direction in the sector,” he said prior to the Friday meeting. “I don’t think that people understand where it’s going to go, how it’s going to get there.

“I think it’s a big, big issue.”

The Friday meeting occurred a day after Foxx, Rosekind and a handful of industry executives announced a 10-year, $3.9 billion investment that’s part of President Barack Obama’s 2017 budget proposal to accelerate development of autonomous cars.

The new policies would lay a framework for state regulatory laws and generally remove roadblocks and red tape that have stalled development in the past.

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