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Why are Automotive Recalls Almost Exclusively an American Phenomenon?

While Canada and some other countries have gotten into the recall action, and recalls of automobiles with common parts often become global recalls, it is clear that the bulk of the pressure has come from the U.S. government, media and legal system

Try to remember the last week you did not read in the U.S. press about an automotive recall, or even the last day. In 2013 there were more vehicles recalled then vehicles sold. By the end of May 2014, more then 20 million vehicles were recalled in the United States, with General Motors accounting for 13.8 million of these. This was on pace to easily break the all-time record of 30.8 million recalled in 2004.

GM itself had 30 recalls by May 2014 covering almost 14 million vehicles, with at least 13 deaths and over 40 injuries from the famous ignition switch recalls, and some argue there were far more deaths. The defect was known for 10 years before GM pulled the trigger on recalls under pressure from NHTSA. An interesting analysis suggested that if GM recalled vehicles with higher then average safety related complaints it would generate an additional 275 unique recall issues across 50 GM models, which would cost the company $4.2 billion just in direct recall costs, or $1.60 per share.

Ford got into the act in May 2014 with 1.4 million vehicles recalled under pressure from NHTSA. Interestingly, one of the recalls involved floor mats entrapping gas pedals, the main cause of “sudden unexpected acceleration” in Toyota vehicles.

While Canada and some other countries have gotten into the recall action, and recalls of automobiles with common parts often become global recalls, it is clear that the bulk of the pressure has come from the U.S. government, media and legal system. Whether one believes that has something to do with the proportion of the U.S. population in the legal profession, the tendencies of journalists to sensationalize stories, or a more aggressive administration in Washington that thrives on taking the moral high ground with big business, the fact is that automotive companies are under unique pressure in the U.S. to recall anything and everything that may possibly influence customer safety

More on recalls on IndustryWeek.

IndustryWeek is an NED companion site within Penton’s Manufacturing & Supply Chain Group.

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