Following weeks of hinting, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced this week it would be taking action on long-stalled auto recalls. The recalls that have piqued the interest of the agency are one that involves the gas tanks of 1.56 million older Jeeps and the continuing Takata airbag crisis. The Jeep recall began in 2013 and ended last year. However, the agency may reopen it. The other recall is the continuing Takata airbag fiasco that involves 17 million U.S. vehicles and as many as 25 million overseas.
The agency’s action has not been unexpected. During the last few weeks, it has issued a series of direct hints that it was unsatisfied with the speed of the recalls and that it would take firm action. To that end, NHTSA Administrator NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind told Automotive News that the agency would be taking action within the next two weeks to speed things along. The agency has had two internal working groups preparing a range of actions that the NHTSA could take though he did not go into specifics.
Rosekind is plainly upset by the foot-dragging going on with the recalls. His irritation was plain when he said forcefully that the recalls are “too slow.” Last week, the agency announced a series of actions designed to change the atmosphere around recalls. Apparently believing the program broken, Rosekind has announced meetings and a series of safety summits with the chiefs of the auto industry. The sit-downs will seek to find the problems with the current recall program and fix it. The agency is trying to instill a proactive safety culture across the auto industry.
Until the agency solves the problem, though, it has to deal with its current level of dissatisfaction with the recall process. Rosekind told Automotive News he expected the working groups to have their recommendations soon.
The agency may reopen the now-closed recall. So far, estimates are that about 12 percent of the Jeeps recalled for gas tank faults have returned for repair. NHTSA is not satisfied with this performance. The agency will watch the first quarter repair numbers before taking action.
To date, 17 million vehicles have been recalled by U.S. automakers for airbag problems. No one knows how many vehicles have returned for repairs. Six have died as a result of this fault.