Automobile Recalls – Cars no longer a safe ride

It is not wrong to state that the end customer is not always aware of the technology behind a product. More often than not, a customer’s choice is influenced by the market position of the company, the brand value, the brand ambassador and its affordability. With an established brand name comes a great responsibility – of upholding the public’s faith and ensuring their safety. The most important step, before releasing any product into the market, is testing. When the importance of this crucial step is undermined, thousands of lives are put at stake. The automobile sector has been abuzz with design flaws and controversies.  We have been witnessing times of ‘automobile recalls’, from some of the most esteemed and prestigious brands of the world. Where, in the design process, do these companies go wrong – that has left buyers wary and intimidated? Is it the pressure on the engineers, to release the product in the market before their rivals, which results in the hastening of the entire process – at the cost of safety? Could it be possible that there are not enough testing equipments and insightful engineers, who can foresee such problems? Or is it simply negligence?

A year of recalls

In late 2009 and early 2010, General Motors recalled 60,000 units of its Chevrolet Cruze model,- at its South Korean unit. There were complaints about defects in the fuel supply pipe and steering system, of the vehicles. In January 2010, Honda recalled 646,000 Jazz Hatchbacks, of 2002-2008, due to a defective window switch that could catch fire! Yet again, on 10th August, 2010, Honda recalled 384,220 vehicles – because of failure with the ignition system.  On 24th February, 2010, Maruti Suzuki, India, announced recalling of 100,000 A-Star hatchbacks – to fix a fuel leakage problem. Toyota scored a hat-trick by announcing three separate recalls, at the end of 2009 and start of 2010, for reasons of pedal entrapment, floor mat incursion and hybrid anti-lock brake software.
This is not all of it. These were just a few, to name from an endless list of flaws and recalls.

The wakeup call

Once the product is released and marketed, how are these flaws identified? What initiates these recalls?

Even a minor defect in a vehicle’s brake system or electric circuitry has the potential to take lives or cause serious injuries. In a majority of cases, it is only after a succession of accidents – following a similar pattern, is recorded, that these defects begin to surface. By then, the damage is done. The best the company can do is to recall the vehicles and service them at the company’s cost, to prevent further tarnishing of their brand image, in the global market. The company is incurring loss and so is the society. This also damages the overall economy – by affecting the resale value of used cars.

There is no dearth of knowledgeable and experienced engineers in the world. With a little insight and a little more care, such disasters can be averted.

Deepashri Vardarajan

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