Recalls are public relations nightmares for vehicle manufacturers. Not only are they facing high costs to repair sometimes millions of vehicles, but they also face a public relations backlash that can ruin the best of reputations.
The growing complexity of cars, trucks, and other motorized conveyances operated by software and electronics have played a significant role in system problems leading to recalls. Also, parts have been streamlined to fit various brands and models. A failure of one can impact multiple makes and models. Shareholder pressure to reduce quality assurance for the sake of profits only makes a bad situation worse.
The fact that safety recalls have reached record levels should not be surprising. Auto manufacturers announced a total of 341 recalls in 2018, affecting 28 million vehicles. While that year represented a high point, the number of vehicles was less than the previous year that saw 30.6 million recalled vehicles.
System failures involving electronics and software played a role in most recalls, shifting the blame to suppliers and parts manufacturers. Suppliers alone doubled recall notices in 2013, a number that has grown significantly over the years.
Not all recalls generate banner headlines in the news. Some are routine. However, when a car defect leads to injuries and fatalities, auto manufacturers have a hard time undoing the damage to their reputation and financial bottom line.
However, the news is not all bad. The dynamic between automakers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is changing. Instead of the NHTSA announcing a vast majority of recalls in 2018, automakers notified consumers 93 percent of the time.
Self-policing, combined with social media strategies by automakers, is a good start. Some companies are still slow to adapt, relying on “snail mail” in a time when people are continually moving. Modern technology can make a significant difference in customer communications while protecting reputations, maintaining their market share, and, most importantly, saving lives.