NHTSA: BMW may have failed to recall vehicles on time

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

BMW AG may have failed to recall more than 30,000 Mini Coopers in a timely fashion over a failure to meet side-impact crash standards, federal investigators said Monday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is opening an investigation into 30,456 models of the 2014-15 Mini Cooper, Cooper S and 2015 John Cooper Works after NHTSA performed side-impact crash tests on two 2014 Mini Cooper Hardtop 2 Door more than a year ago.

BMW didn’t recall the vehicle until July — and after months of pressure from NHTSA.

“NHTSA is concerned that BMW was aware or should have been aware of the non-compliance with (side-impact standards) and should have taken remedial action on the population of Mini Cooper vehicles identified in (July) earlier than it did. It appears from a review of NHTSA’s databases that BMW may have failed to submit recall communications to NHTSA in a timely manner,” NHTSA said.

Last year, NHTSA performed the tests at 5 mph higher than required by law on two Mini Cooper cars. These tests measured spine acceleration results on a dummy that mirrors a small woman — and the vehicles didn’t pass.

“NHTSA viewed these results as indicating a potential problem and believes BMW should also have been concerned with the compliance of the vehicles,” NHTSA said.

A spokeswoman said BMW is reviewing the matter.

In October 2014, NHTSA conducted a compliance test on a 2014 Hardtop 2 Door — and it did not pass.

In December, BMW issued a recall for 2014 Hardtop 2 Doors Cooper manufactured between December 2013 and May 2014. The remedy involved installing a small foam patch in the rear door panels.

NHTSA said in January BMW verbally committed that it would conduct a service campaign to add padding to the rear side panels of 2015 models. “However, BMW did not initiate the service campaign and failed to inform NHTSA of its failure to do so,” NHTSA said.

In early July, NHTSA had a compliance side impact test performed on a 2015 Mini 2 Door Hardtop Cooper.

“BMW technicians installed a foam pad in the rear side panels of the Cooper model vehicle prior to the test, which was the modification contemplated in the service campaign. The test of the Mini 2 Door Hardtop Cooper with the additional padding and at the higher test weight passed the test. However, this was the only vehicle on which the service campaign was performed and thus was not representative of in-use vehicles,” NHTSA said.

BMW finally agreed to recall all 30,456 vehicles on July 15.

This is not the first time the German automaker may have run afoul of NHTSA. NHTSA has also imposed fines on a number of other automakers in recent months for failing to recall vehicles in a timely fashion.

In 2012, BMW paid a $3 million fine after failing to recall vehicles in a timely fashion. NHTSA said at the time an examination of 16 BMW recalls issued in 2010 found evidence of a number of instances where the automaker failed to report safety defects to the agency in accordance with federal law. As part of the settlement, BMW agreed to make internal changes to its recall decision-making process to ensure timely reporting to consumers and the federal government in the future.