Top five automotive scandals in 2016

Representative image
Representative image
The year 2016 saw many scandals in the automotive industry. Here are the top five incidents that marred the industry.

Takata”s faulty airbag scandal

Takata Corp “is a specialized supplier of automotive safety systems”, but its reputation has been under a cloud.

Due to a variety of factors, Takata’s airbag inflators can inflate with excessive force, causing them to explode and even spray metal shrapnel on the passengers.

Globally, the inflators have caused 16 fatalities and injuries numbering atleast in the hundreds.

While the airbag manufacturer’s woes had already begun in 2013, they worsened immensely in the year 2016. What started out as an issue with some vehicles, transformed into recalls in atleast three countries and by as many as 19 automakers.

The number of vehicles recalled in the US, by a conservative estimate, stood at 42 million. South Korea began by recalling 50,000 vehicles and then widened it by 110,000 more automobiles. However, that number is nowhere near the final count as some automakers were yet to announce their plans for recall.

The faulty airbags forced Japanese auto major Honda to issue atleast two rounds of recall in India, numbering a few lakh cars in all.

Volkswagen group’s emission cheating scandal

Volkswagen was hit by an enormous scandal of global proportions in late 2015 and in the next year, the humiliation only increased manifold.

American authorities found ‘defeat devices’ installed in some of its diesel vehicles, aimed at cheating on emission tests. Under laboratory conditions, the defeat device would ensure the vehicle’s engine ran below normal power and performance.

That way, the software would manipulate emissions data to ensure the vehicle would be cleared for sale in the US. In fact, it was found that the cars’ emissions were 30 times the limit set by the US.

Volkswagen admitted that 11 million of its diesel vehicles worldwide were fitted with the software.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fined the automaker a massive $18 billion.

After the scandal hit, other countries opened investigations into Volkswagen – including South Korea, India, Australia and the European Union.

Globally, the automaker recalled 2.4 million cars, including 324,000 cars from its Volkswagen, Audi and Skoda brands in India.

Recently, worries have emerged over excessive toxic emissions by one of Audi’s top-selling models, the Euro 6 diesel generation A3. If found to hold water, the results could lead to full-scale investigations into the VW group company.

This does not bode well for its reputation as its parent brand is already under massive scrutiny all over the world.

Mitsubishi”s fuel economy scandal

In 2016, Japanese automaker Mitsubishi admitted to manipulating mileage in a scandal that sent its market value tumbling.

According to the automaker, it overstated mileage on four mini-vehicles, including two models it produced for Nissan Motor Co.

Mitsubishi admitted to using unapproved methods to calculate mileage for 25 years. It accepted that it used estimates – rather than actual data from tests – to calculate the fuel economy of its mini-vehicles.

Following this, the company decided to stop production and sales of the affected models and probe the cars sold overseas. However, in June 2016, the Japanese authorities allowed Mitsubishi to resume sales of the automobiles, after it was observed that the vehicles’ fuel economy was around 11 per cent lower than publicised. Thus, the results of the test conducted by the government would not change the way the vehicles were classified in the country.

Tesla”s autopilot mode

Tesla unveiled its much-awaited ‘autopilot’ system in 2015. The system was touted to allow the vehicle to automatically change lanes, manage speed and even brake in certain conditions. The system is a semi-autonomous driving system, activated and overridden by the driver.

However, in July 2016, the company announced that a person in Florida had died while using the ‘autopilot’ self-drive mechanism on its Model S electric car. However, it was at pains to emphasize that “this is the first known fatality in just over 209 million kilometres where autopilot was activated.”

In August 2016 in Beijing, one of Tesla’s cars crashed while on ‘autopilot’ mode. Though there were no casualties, the driver blamed the carmaker’s sales staff for exaggerating the vehicle’s actual ‘self-driving’ features.

While Tesla launched its own investigation into the incident, it clarified that it was the driver’s responsibility to maintain control of the vehicle. In this particular case, the driver’s hands were not detected on the steering wheel.

In September 2016, the company announced updation of the ‘autopilot’, with alterations that may have prevented the fatality in Florida.

Fiat Chrysler’s rollaway accidents

In April of 2016, the world’s seventh-largest automaker, Fiat Chrysler recalled over 1.1 million vehicles after it was found that the automobiles might roll away after the driver’s exit.

The issue was seen to be linked to 41 injuries, 212 crashes and 308 reports of property damage.

Fiat Chrysler wrote to vehicle owners after announcing the recall, asking them to ensure that their vehicles were in park.

While the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) alleged that the vehicles’ transmission gear selector posed a safety issue, the company did not acknowledge any design flaws.

Instead, Fiat Chrysler claimed rollaways occurred because drivers mistakenly believed they placed the vehicle in park before getting out.

In June 2016, Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin died after being crushed when his recalled 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee rolled backward and pinned him against a wall and fence. If the accident is proven to have been caused by the recall issue, he would become its first fatality.

The same month, owners of the Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles filed a class-action complaint against the automaker, alleging that it concealed a shifter design defect associated with the rollaway accidents.

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