24 August 2000 | Cathy Hayward
Vehicle manufacturers have rejected claims that this year's record number of recalls proves that they are cutting corners on safety and not working closely enough with suppliers.
Figures from the Vehicle Inspectorate reveal that 1.1 million vehicles were recalled in the first half of this year, matching the total number recalled in the whole of 1999.
The government body said the risewas the result of "safety concerns in relation to the vehicle's design or manufacture, which could cause significant risk of injury to members of the public".
But experts said the majority of recalls were "purely precautionary" or involved minor problems such as squeaky seatbelts. "The days when recalls were life-threatening and urgently safety critical are gone," said Al Clarke of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
David Thomas, supply development manager at Unipart, agreed. "There are very few recalls that are primarily safety related," he told SM.
Industry insiders blame the big jump in recalls on the increasing complexity of modern vehicles, high engineering standards and hypersensitivity among vehicle manufacturers.
The latter are becoming much more aware of product liability, according to Professor Peter Cooke at Nottingham Trent University. "You can be sued for sneezing in someone's office these days. Manufacturers are more willing to recall vehicles than before."
Kay Francis, manager of plans and programmes at Ford, agreed that manufacturers tended to err on the side of caution and said customer safety and brand image were paramount.
Unipart's Thomas rejected Vehicle Inspectorate claims that an increase in faulty component parts was partly to blame. "There is a strong ethos in the industry that you get it right first time." Only between one and five in every million parts produced by component suppliers were faulty, he said.
Even manufacturers with 100 per cent quality assurance had recalled cars, Clarke added. Japanese firm Mitsubishi recently recalled 500,000 vehicles worldwide with possible engine and brake defects.
And in cases such as Ford's recall of 100,000 of its Focus model in March this year because of oil leaks and temporary power loss, the level of partnership between suppliers and car makers was high, claimed Ford's Francis. "We work very closely with our suppliers to find a solution to recalls," she said.