As George Orwell said in Animal Farm: "Some pigs are more equal than others." Readers might bear that in mind, as they ponder the announcement that BMW will pay a $3 million penalty for failing to recall vehicles in a timely fashion. How on earth did the Chevrolet Volt fires go unreported by the government for five months?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the German automaker will pay the civil penalties in response to the agency's assertion that the automaker delayed reports of safety defects to the agency.
"It's critical to the safety of the driving public that defects and recalls are reported in short order," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "NHTSA expects all manufacturers to address automotive safety issues quickly and in a forthright manner."
A spokesman for BMW, Dave Buchko, said the company had agreed to pay the fine.
Not so fast, Lone Ranger
Wait a minute, didn't the National Highway Safety Administration suppress the Volt fire reports for five months, while GM scrambled to fix the danger without issuing a recall? If Bloomberg News hadn't reported that concealment in November, would it have emerged at all?
Federal law requires all auto manufacturers to notify NHTSA within five business days of determining that a safety defect or noncompliance exists and to promptly conduct a recall. It is, as the song says, "a long, long time from May to December..."
NHTSA's examination of 16 BMW recalls issued in 2010 found evidence of a number of instances where the automaker failed to report safety defects and recalls to the agency in accordance with federal law.
NHTSA's investigation led the agency to believe that BMW had not fulfilled its obligation to report a known safety defect within five days, as is required under the law. The fines will be paid into the Treasury Department's General Fund.
This is the first government fine since Toyota Motor Corp. in 2010 agreed to pay nearly $50 million - the maximum allowed under the law - for delaying recalls in three separate instances. But then the U.S. Government didn't have a share in Toyota, did it?
Meanwhile through the looking glass...
U.S. auto-safety regulators and GM didn’t put driver safety at risk by not immediately disclosing a fire that erupted in a Volt three weeks after a May (that's right, MAY) crash test, GM Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson and National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland told a hearing in Washington on January 25.
GM and NHTSA didn’t disclose the fire until Bloomberg News reported it in November. The agency opened a formal investigation later that month and closed it last week, saying electric cars posed no more of a fire risk than gasoline-powered models, after GM announced a fix for current and future Volts, avoiding a formal recall.
GM and NHTSA found that battery coolant can leak and catch fire in a simulated rollover crash that punctures the battery compartment. Strickland and Akerson defended the five-month delay in disclosing a possible defect, saying it took time to determine the cause and what risk it might pose to Volt drivers. I wonder how the 8,000 Volt drivers feel about that? Normally, test pilots know they're taking risks and they're being paid to take them.––Paul DucheneBack to News