In an unprecedented move, the Australian federal government has proposed enforcing mandatory recalls of vehicles involved in the global Takata airbag recall, instead of the current voluntary system.
The still-growing issue, which has already claimed the life of a Sydney man in July as well as contributing to an Alice Springs woman’s injuries in April, has been identified as responsible for 19 deaths globally, with over 200 injuries attributed to airbags which may rupture when deployed due to a design flaw.
Car industry insiders have objected to the proposed mandatory recall action labelling the move as "overreach" and "outrageous scaremongering".
In Australia automotive brands including Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Mazda have jointly recalled almost 2.5 million cars to have driver and/or passenger airbag inflators, supplied by component supplier Takata, replaced.
The ACCC is now calling for a further 877,000 vehicles previously unaffected by the issue to be forcibly recalled against the recommendations of car makers.
Previously all Australian safety recalls have been conducted via a voluntary process, initiated by the relevant manufacturers. A forced recall initiative would be the first of its kind in Australia.
ACCC chair Rod Sims said the car industry is not doing enough to repair cars fitted with potentially deadly airbags, pushing the consumer watchdog to recommend "unprecedented" action by the Federal Government.
"For us to advise the minister to go down the mandatory recall route, we have to be satisfied that there is more that could be done," Mr Sims said.
"There's no point turning a voluntary recall into a mandatory recall if they actually are doing everything they can... we are concerned that most, indeed nearly all, could do a lot more."
Due to the massive global demand for replacement parts, delays stemming from supply shortages have slowed the recall process in some instances, while a less than enthusiastic response from some vehicle owners is another stumbling block to completing the recall process.
A joint statement released by Paul Fletcher, minister for urban infrastructure, and Michael McCormack, minister for small business, said the Federal Government "is taking further action to ensure the safety of Australian consumers and safety on our roads".
Car companies and authorities have schedules an October 9 meeting to discuss whether or not to implement a mandatory recall procedure.
In some instances manufacturers will be urged to provide towing services and loan vehicles to customers affected by the issue, and to improve communication with vehicle owners and the wider community.
The proposed recall notice features graphic descriptions of Takata airbag victims, claiming that "first responders have thought vehicle occupants had been shot or stabbed due to the shrapnel wounds".
Car companies will be given a 2021 deadline to complete the recall action, giving priority to so-called ‘alpha’ airbags which have been identified as the most dangerous, and must be accepted for repair within one business day of being contacted by customers.
The ACCC has identified around 877,000 cars sold by at least eight car makers including Audi, Ford, Jaguar, Volkswagen, Holden, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Tesla that could be equipped with potentially faulty Takata airbags in Australia.
Mr Sims said "motor vehicle manufacturers have a different view and that's why they are not recalling them - we think they should, now".
The latest round of vehicles under scrutiny are equipped with airbags produced by a German Takata factory which has not been linked to fatal failures.
A spokesman for Volkswagen said "we have been advised that our airbags are not among those affected. We are, of course, cooperating with the authorities to the fullest extent".
Mercedes-Benz is "seeking clarification" on the issue.
One senior car company executive described the ACCC's position as "scaremongering" and "outrageous overreach".
Conversely Mazda has stated that it "supports a compulsory recall" as "owner safety is a top priority". Similarly Nissan has said "we welcome the wider community support to encourage consumers to get their Takata airbag inflators repaired".