Govt announces compulsory recall of 50,000 vehicles over faulty airbags
By Sophie Boot
April 4 (BusinessDesk) - The government has announced a compulsory recall of 50,000 vehicles with Alpha-type Takata airbags, and praised the Motor Industry Association for pushing the issue for years despite government officials' lack of interest.
Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Kris Faafoi announced the recall, which requires suppliers of the affected vehicles to contact owners and replace the airbags by December 2019, at a press conference today, flanked by Consumer New Zealand's head of testing Paul Smith and MIA chief executive David Crawford.
The recall has been voluntary in New Zealand since 2013, when it was discovered a global recall of Takata airbags could affect up to 450,000 vehicles in New Zealand and 100 million vehicles worldwide. Globally, the airbags have been associated with 23 deaths and 230 serious injuries, though there have been no injuries or fatalities in New Zealand. The airbags are dangerous because the inflator can explode in an accident, sending metal fragments towards those in the vehicle.
Faafoi said he had known about the problem since February this year, when he got his first briefing on the issue from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the New Zealand Transport Agency following Australia's compulsory Takata recall which covered 2.3 million cars. He then commissioned an urgent report and found a lack of information held by government and no planned solutions.
"It's fair to say I didn't like what I saw in the initial briefing. I asked for more information and it was difficult to get an idea of the size of the problem, that's why I have to thank the MIA because they came up with the solid numbers that led us to know we had to do something."
Crawford said he had been "a stuck record" on concerns about these airbags for the five years he has held the top role at the MIA, as had his predecessor, but felt that senior NZTA officials disregarded what he was saying, though technicians and lower management level officials had taken him seriously.
"I don't really want to dump on the NZTA, but the issue is, if I wrote to a minister and didn't have senior management support for an issue, then the briefing would say 'this is just a low-level operational issue you don't need to worry about'."
"To be honest, that has been my feeling for how this had been managed until the end of last year, there wasn't sufficient interest high enough at senior management levels for it to progress," Crawford said. "It has taken the minister's intervention to really scale it up. Our challenge has been to get sufficient coordination across government agencies - the responsibility sits partly under consumer legislation and partly under vehicle compliance, it's complicated."
Crawford said it was challenging to get consumers to understand the importance of bringing their vehicles in for the airbags to be replaced, but it now being compulsory would send the right message to consumers.
The recall also sees the government introduce intensive monitoring for vehicles with non-alpha Takata airbags and a ban on any more vehicles with affected airbags being imported after the 40 working day grace period for vehicles which are already in transit to New Zealand.
Faafoi said he will get monthly reports on the progress of non-alpha Takata airbag recalls, and if enough progress isn't made, he will enact a compulsory recall "because I am not willing to compromise on the safety of New Zealanders."
Making this recall compulsory means it must be done within the specific timeframe and creates obligations for vehicle suppliers to facilitate the recall and replacement of the airbags, with potential penalties for suppliers if they don't meet those requirements.
The recall comes into place in 40 working days, and owners can check whether their vehicle's airbags need replacing on MBIE's recall.govt.nz website. Faafoi also said the government will have a website detailing all affected cars and further information within days. Alpha type airbags were an earlier model and more likely to have been used in vehicles manufactured in the late 1990s and early to mid-2000s.