Stout's Automotive Recall Accelerator brings together unique and important news, analysis, and insights related to automotive recall and vehicle safety for stakeholders across the industry.

December 10, 2020

Recent Developments

A vehicle safety recall involving a defective fuel pump has continued to expand to additional vehicles throughout the course of the year. Initially, the recall affected 700,000 vehicles in the US, and in March it expanded to an additional 1.1 million vehicles. Recently, another 1.52 million vehicles were added to the recall, raising the total number of vehicles affected (model years 2013-2015 and 2017-2020) in the US to 3.34 million.

  • “The subject vehicles are equipped with a low-pressure fuel pump, located in the fuel tank, that supplies fuel pressure to the fuel injection system. These fuel pumps may include impellers which have been manufactured with lower density. If these impellers are also (1) of a type with lower surface strength or (2) of a different type but were exposed to production solvent drying for longer periods of time, higher levels of surface cracking may occur. In this condition, excessive fuel absorption may occur, resulting in increased impeller deformation. In some cases, the impeller may deform to a point that creates sufficient interference with the fuel pump body to cause the fuel pump to become inoperative.”
  • View the Part 573 submission for this recall
  • The Part 573 submission chronologies for this recall can be accessed here:

In December 2020, over 217,000 vehicles (model years 2018-2020) will be recalled due to oil leaks that can cause vehicles to stall or catch on fire. This defect also reflects another form of software defect not often considered – a defect that arises from a software issue in the manufacturing process, not in the component itself.

  • “Missing bolts on the start-stop accumulator endcap could result in a transmission oil leak and may progress to a loss of propulsion, which could increase the risk of a crash. A transmission oil leak in the presence of an ignition source may increase the risk of fire.”
  • “An error in the supplier’s assembly line software logic may have allowed start-stop accumulators to be released from the supplier’s automated bolt torque station without two required bolts.”
  • View the Part 573 submission for this recall

NHTSA recently published its 2021 Communications and Highway Traffic Safety Events calendars. These calendars include dates for safety awareness campaigns such as impaired driving, child passengers, distracted driving and conference dates. View the calendars here.

Analysis

Petitions for inconsequential noncompliance can often provide unique insight regarding how NHTSA considers vehicle safety. In October 2020, NHTSA denied a petition for inconsequential noncompliance involving the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 108, Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment. The petition involved approximately 14,000 vehicles between model years 2011 and 2019.

  • “…the noncompliance is that the brake lights in the subject vehicles illuminate with Automatic Traction Control (ATC) activation and, therefore, do not meet the requirements specified in S6.2.1 of FMVSS No. 108.”
  • In the petition, the OEM lists several conditions where the ATC may activate and instances when brake light illumination (when ATC would activate) could be beneficial to other drivers. It is also noted that and the illumination would only apply for a very brief period or while the vehicle is stationary.
    • “The temporary brake light illumination serves to emphasize the message to following drivers that adverse or unusual road conditions may exist and they should pay close attention.”
  • In the petition, the OEM “states that it is not aware of any accidents, injuries, owner complaints, or field reports for brake light illumination triggered by ATC events concerning the subject vehicles.”
  • In NHTSA’s analysis of the petition, it notes “The noncompliance at issue here is that the stop lamps in the subject vehicles illuminate during a traction control event. Specifically, during a traction control event, the stop lamps are being activated… which is not designed to retard the motion of the vehicle. This is a clear noncompliance with paragraphs S6.2.1 and S7.3.5, Table I-a of FMVSS No. 108…As defined by S4 of FMVSS No. 108, stop lamps are lamps giving a steady light to the rear of a vehicle to indicate a vehicle is stopping or diminishing speed by braking. In contrast, a traction control event typically involves a vehicle that is trying to gain traction to accelerate or maintain its existing speed. The illumination of stop lamps during a traction control event would therefore impair the effectiveness of the stop lamps and create a potential safety risk by incorrectly signaling to a following driver that there is an intent to slow down.”
  • NHTSA also noted, as it has in other petitions of inconsequential noncompliance, that it does not consider the absence of complaints or injuries to show inconsequentiality to safety.
  • For more information: Daimler Trucks North America, Denial of Petition for Decision of Inconsequential Noncompliance

Insights

Cybersecurity has become a critical concern in the automotive industry as advanced electronics are integrated into a myriad of vehicle systems and automobiles log and transmit substantial volumes of data. Vehicle manufacturers continue to integrate software into vehicles through advanced driver assistance systems and vehicle-to-vehicle communication networks, requiring regular vehicle software updates. In October 2020, NHTSA released a report about cybersecurity of firmware updates. This report includes interesting insights, including but not limited to:

  • “Over-the-Air (OTA) software and firmware updates are widely considered essential for networked devices. In the automotive industry, OTA firmware updates are anticipated to increase the efficiency and decrease the time in updating the critical firmware in vehicles’ electronic control units (ECUs).”
  • “The advantages of remote software updates to vehicle manufacturers are reduced warranty costs, improved customer satisfaction, and the ability to offer customers improved features and content.”
  • “There is no singular, perfect reference model for securing software updates. Every system has different requirements and user experience targets that shape the design enough to require security to be at a minimum analyzed and usually designed with an application-specific approach. While software updates have a large surface from which vulnerabilities can potentially spring, many of the mitigations are known. Software update functionality can be attacked at many different places in the distribution process. And, while technical risks exist, many of the risks are social (such as lost passwords, etc.) in nature. The benefit of reliable, prompt software updates for in-field electronics is significant.”
  • The report outlines and explains 16 mitigation strategies that could be applied to the risks discussed, which include: Update Authentication, Secure Channel, Entity Authentication, User Authentication and Authorization, Use a Root-of-Trust-for-Update, Protect Keys and Security-Relevant Data Stored in ECUs, Prevent Bypassing of Authentication Mechanisms, Prevent Forgery or Unauthorized Generation of Digital Signatures, Separation of Duties, Code Reviews before Code Deployment, Ethical Hacking and Penetration Testing, Quickly Fix Security Bugs for In-House and 3rd Party Software, Traditional IT Best Practices, App Store Security, Physical Security and Secure Architecture.
  • Coincidentally, Tesla recently launched a recall related to a software defect and noted that “Tesla will notify owners and has released the firmware update over-the-air (OTA) to vehicles as of September 23, 2020.”
  • For more information: Cybersecurity of Firmware Updates

In recent years automakers have carefully evaluated the costs of vehicle warranty and recall claims and accruals. The scrutiny of these costs has increased as global and national economic conditions have squeezed automotive industry margins. Automakers are now considering strategies to improve vehicle quality, identify the causes for potential defects, and more cost-effectively remedy defects while maximizing vehicle safety.

  • For example, Subaru has disclosed an increased emphasis on improving its quality control of its 2020 Forester and Outback vehicles following. 18 recalls of these vehicles in 2019. To date, Subaru has not issued any recalls for its 2020 model year Forrester and Outback.
    • “Last year, Subaru took a big hit because of quality issues in the Forester, Outback, Crosstrek, and Ascent models. In 2020 it's a different story for the Japanese automaker. Subaru reports profits have increased in 2020 18-fold because they have not had substantial warranty costs as they did in 2019.”
    • Subaru improved the quality of its 2020 Forester and Outback vehicles through the following:
      • “Subaru Corporation improved quality quickly first by spending more than $1 billion starting in 2020. The plan was to slow production and implement new quality measures and training procedures at its two plants.”
      • “Subaru Corporation revised its ‘Quality’ policy after 25 years. Subaru announced March 29, 2019, "Based on the subsequent internal and external environmental changes, and repeated discussions throughout the company, we have reached a ‘Quality Policy’ revision."
      • “Subaru also established a new Quality Assurance Management Office that was operational on April 1, 2020. Executive Vice President, Atsushi Osaki (Chief Quality Officer), oversees group-wide quality assurance and develops and manages Subaru's organizational structure and systems to assure quality, maintain their effectiveness, and continually improve them.”
    • For more information: How Subaru Improved New Forester And Outback Quality And 3 Reasons Why They Did It Fast
  • Ford’s new CEO, Jim Farley, also recently expressed interest in reducing the costs of warranty claims.
    • “As part of its new effort to cut warranty costs, Ford has told suppliers it will charge them upfront for half the cost of a warranty problem. Suppliers might get some of the money back if they resolve problems more quickly.”
    • “What we are striving for is to fix the issues as fast as possible so that those adjustments are as small as possible,” Kumar Galhotra, president of the automaker’s Americas and International Markets group, told Reuters. “They’re more incentivized to work with us.”
    • “Bad parts from suppliers account for about one-third of Ford’s warranty costs, Drake said. The rest stem from design and manufacturing issues, Galhotra said.”
    • “To attack internal quality problems, Ford has reconstituted teams that track the quality of inbound parts at its plants. These teams were previously disbanded as cost-cutting moves. Farley is pushing executives to resolve quality issues that linger beyond 30 days.”
    • For more information: Ford’s new CEO tackles warranty costs in bid to boost profit

The Governor’s Highway Safety Administration (“GHSA”) issued a report about how the State Highway Safety Offices (“SHSOs”) use social media for traffic safety.

  • “The study researched how State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs) are using social media and the opportunities, benefits, and challenges social media presents. While social media continues to rapidly evolve, this report looks at the current state of the practice of SHSO social media, including new and creative ways SHSOs are sharing information, and how these activities are being measured or tracked.”
  • “A common theme that arose is that there is no one way to deliver social media. Instead, there are a variety of ways to achieve a highly engaging social media approach; and, as such, there are also a variety of ways to both define and measure successful social media messaging. This variance is what makes social media an area filled with trial and error”
  • “Six promising practices are presented in this report. The promising practices are designed to help inform planning and decision-making within a platform; they are not designed for comparing Facebook and Twitter because both platforms are unique in how engagement can be measured. These promising practices derive from analysis and identification of national trends of safety messaging used by SHSOs for Facebook and Twitter, examples of safety messaging with high 3 engagement, and case study examples from the SHSO interviews that were conducted. The promising practices are:
    • Reuse safety messaging on multiple platforms;
    • Consider the tone of your safety messages;
    • Use pictures, videos, and links strategically;
    • Use hashtags selectively;
    • Time the posting of content to meet stakeholders’ needs; and
    • Collaborate with other State and local accounts to increase visibility of safety messaging.”
  • For more information: Social Media Practices in Traffic Safety

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