As lawmakers, federal agencies and automakers bandy about ways to better track potential product defects in cars and trucks, one watchdog group already assembled an early warning list of problems — and it’s dominated by Ford and Toyota.
The Safety Institute, a nonprofit organization that monitors product safety issues and trends, released its inaugural quarterly Vehicle Safety Watch List of potential safety-related defects Tuesday.
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At the top of the first-ever list was the 2012 Ford Focus for steering issues. The same vehicle is also No. 3 on the list for electrical issues. Toyota has nine vehicles on the list, although they’re various model years of the Sienna minivan, RAV4 and its best-selling Camry. General Motors also has three vehicles on the list: the 2011 and 2012 Chevy Cruze plus the 2007 GMC Yukon.
In all, the list features 15 vehicles with potential issues or existing problems. It also chronicles whether or not there is an ongoing investigation, a recall or no action whatsoever.
The list is a product of the Institute’s Vehicle Safety Watch List Analytics and NHTSA Enforcement Monitoring Program. The data used in the compilation of the list is drawn from a variety of sources, including: NHTSA consumer complaints, manufacturer-reported Early Warning Reports on deaths and injuries, and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System.
The list is “sponsored” by attorney Lance Cooper, who represents the family of Brooke Melton, who died in a 2010 crash caused by the sudden failure of the ignition in her 2005 Chevy Cobalt, the Safety Institute said. Cooper will pay the institute to conduct the quarterly research, confirmed Sean Kane, founder and president of the board of directors of The Safety Institute. Kane declined to say how much money Cooper is contributing.
“Thoughtfully applying analytic tools to available data on motor vehicle problems will help direct resources to problems in advance of crises. This much-needed program will provide important guidance for NHTSA, industry, attorneys and the public” Kane said.
“Instead of NHTSA’s actions probed in occasional Congressional hearings, The Safety Institute’s reports will provide regular review of the agency’s enforcement activities and how well it is doing. It’s long overdue.”
The list comes as multiple inquiries are under way into GM’s handling of a delayed safety recall involving defective ignition switches linked to at least 13 deaths.
While the exact methodology behind the list may not be globally accepted by automakers, it doesn’t mean that some of the data used isn’t already being reviewed by companies.
Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, said Tuesday that the maker hasn’t changed its approach in handling possible vehicle defects and the need for recalls. He believes the high number of recalls shows automakers are acting prudently to ensure consumer safety.
"With what's transpired (in recent months), there's a higher level of scrutiny" across the industry, he said.
While many look at the dizzying number of recalls as a sign of poor quality or lackadaisical attitudes about consumer safety, Hinrichs believes the recalls reflect the opposite.
"There is so much data out there you can act very quickly to protect your customers. There is a lot more data to work with in real time," he said.
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