The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) has levelled criticism at what it calls the “absurd” handling of the Takata airbag crisis by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), accusing the government body of misunderstanding the issue before proposing unprecedented mandatory recalls.
FCAI chief executive, Tony Weber, says the consumer watchdog has a poor grasp of the deadly Takata airbag scandal.
In Australia one death has been attributed to the widespread airbag fault, while overseas 18 more people have been killed as a result of airbag casings that may rupture during a crash, propelling shrapnel throughout a car’s cabin.
Over three million cars are affected by the issue in Australia, which has prompted major manufacturers such as Honda, Toyota and Mazda to fit new parts to thousands of cars each week.
Weber says car companies doing a satisfactory job of handling the voluntary recall action, despite vocal criticism from the ACCC.
“My biggest concern with the ACCC is that at times they do not understand the industry they are dealing with before making statements,” he says.
“They make public statements without truly understanding the industry or the marketplace.”
“If they don’t understand what they are doing, that is of concern.”
The consumer agency took the unusual step of announcing its intention to launch a mandatory recall of any vehicles potentially affected by the issue. The ACCC said at the time that around 877,000 cars sold by at least eight car makers including Audi, Ford, Jaguar, Volkswagen, Holden, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Tesla have potentially faulty Takata airbags in Australia.
Objections came from multiple brands, including Volkswagen and Mercedes, who said airbags in their cars did not pose a threat to consumers.
ACCC chair Rod Sims said then that most car companies “could do a lot more” to address the issue.
Weber expressed disappointment that the ACCC did not work closely with car companies before releasing a draft proposal for Australia’s first mandatory automotive recalls.
“The ACCC are going through a process now in which they are accumulating a better understanding of the issue,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate that this work was not done before that draft document was put out.”
“We had the notice out there in the public domain before we had the meeting. That’s the cart before the horse. It’s just absurd.
“Complex issues need thorough investigation rather than the broad brush that came out when the ACCC’s document came out.”
A spokeswoman for the ACCC said laws surrounding the mandatory recall process allow the body to hold a conference with affected suppliers “after a draft recall notice has been published, but not before” and that the ACCC “is consulting extensively, including meeting with suppliers of vehicles and vehicle components and assessing detailed submissions and expert reports”.
Jaguar, Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz announced plans to recall cars equipped with Takata airbags following the ACCC’s proposed recall.
Other companies including Mazda are supportive of industry-first mandatory recalls.
Weber is confident further talks between the car industry and government could negate the need for car companies to be forced to conduct work that may not be necessary.
Car companies have struggled to engage with customers affected by the Takata airbag problem, with some ignoring multiple notices asking them to have cars rectified. The FCAI has called for better cooperation from state road authorities which hold vehicle legislation details, while asking for people to be patient with parts supply chains operating at full capacity.
“Do we need a mandatory recall here? I don’t think we do,” Weber said.
“There is no doubt that the car companies in this country hold safety as absolute paramount in their business models.”
“I don’t believe there is any need whatsoever for a mandatory recall.”