General Motors gets BURNED by MPs over Vauxhall Zafira fires recall

General Motors gets BURNED by MPs over Vauxhall Zafira fires recall

General Motors gets BURNED by MPs over Vauxhall Zafira fires recall

General Motors executives have faced a grilling by the Commons Transport Committee over the Zafira fires issue that led to a recall of more than 234,000 vehicles last year.

The recall relates to a thermal fuse in the blower motor resistor that could start a fire. Water can leak into a relay box on right-hand-drive cars, causing the fuse to fail. Left-hand-drive cars are unaffected.

At a parliamentary hearing, representatives from Vauxhall’s parent company, General Motors, faced questions over the safety issue. It started off simply…

How many fires in the Zafira Model Bs are you aware of?

How many fires in the Zafira Model Bs are you aware of?

The hearing begins by Transport Committee chair, Louise Ellman MP, asking the question: “How many fires in the Zafira Model Bs are you aware of?”

GM’s representatives respond with a blank look.

“Fires?”, asks the firm’s director global safety and field investigations, Thomas Berenz.

A shuffling of papers commences before GM’s vice president of quality, Elvira Toelkes, responds that they’re aware of 287 fires associated with heating and ventilation in the Zafira B.

Not content with the response, Ellman asks, “How many fires in total are you aware of?”

Helen Foord, GM’s government relations chief, asks for clarification on which model is being referred to.

How many fires in the Zafira Model Bs are you aware of?

Ellman responds: “I think it’s a pretty obvious question to start with, isn’t it? I mean, this is the reason that you’re here today. The simple question is, how many fires are you aware of in Zafira B?”

General Motors responds that they’re aware of 287 – but hesitates on how many have been investigated by engineers. Toelkes admits that just 59 have been investigated.

After being questioned about why more Zafiras haven’t been probed, GM’s representatives respond that often insurance companies or customers won’t give them permission to investigate the car. As a lot of the fires are old cases that have only recently come to light, the cars have since been scrapped and aren’t available for detailed examination.

They add that they haven’t got any figures on how many vehicles GM tried to get access to, prompting another tirade by Ellman: “It’s very peculiar, isn’t it, that you come here to answer questions on this topic, and you can’t tell me how many cars that you tried to get access to.”

Vauxhall chiefs haven’t met ANY of the customers affected by Zafira fires

Vauxhall chiefs haven't met ANY of the customers affected by Zafira fires

Following questioning about what Vauxhall has been doing since last facing the committee in July 2016, Stewart McDonald MP asks how many customers affected by the fires each individual GM representative has met.

Each answer that they haven’t personally met any, with Foord adding, “It’s not the line of job that I’m employed to do.”

“None of you have thought to take half a day to meet any of the people affected… just a couple of hours,” says McDonald.

Vauxhall calls for a national fire database

Vauxhall calls for a national fire database

Following questioning by Iain Stewart MP about whether insurance companies have helped make Vauxhall aware of fires, the GM panel said it would be ‘beneficial’ if there was an official national fire database to help identify trends.

“We think it’d be very beneficial if insurance companies would share their data with us… if fire brigades would share their data with us,” says Toelkes. “I totally agree that it would be much more beneficial for us to have that data.”

The company has since released a statement, saying manufacturers “have limited visibility” of fires involving their vehicles and Vauxhall would encourage a national database.

“As Vauxhall’s experience with Zafira B shows,” the statement said, “manufacturers have limited visibility of fires in their vehicles. Many Zafira B fire cases, for example, were reported to Vauxhall several years after they took place and only as a result of publicity in October 2015.”

Are Zafira drivers still at risk?

Are Zafira drivers still at risk?

Martin Vickers MP has one simple question for the GM reps: are Zafira drivers in danger?

“With any safety recall, it is a serious situation,” adds Toelkes.

“I am very confident that we have done what is right to mitigate the situation and now offer the customer a quick fix for their vehicles.”

Berenz interjects: “If the field fix has been done then yes, we say the vehicle is safe to drive.

“For the remaining ones, which are not in our garages for the field fix, we suggest they bring them in as soon as possible to get this done.”

You can watch the hearing in full here.

Chevrolet Sail Global NCAP crash test zero stars

Global NCAP pleads with GM to urgently fix ‘life threatening’ zero-star new car safety

Chevrolet Sail Global NCAP crash test zero starsAnother Latin American Chevrolet has scored zero stars in Global NCAP crash safety tests – and the organisation has taken the unprecedented step of writing to the chairman and CEO of Chevrolet parent firm GM, Mary Barra, to express its concern.

Global NCAP’s concern is clear: the Chevrolet brand has a poor overall safety performance in the huge Latin American market, it says, with the worst average safety star rating of any major volume brand.

The Chevrolet Sail has just scored a zero star in the Latin NCAP tests, following the similar zero star of the Chevrolet Aveo. Global NCAP says this means both cars have a high risk of life threatening injury.

What’s more, neither would pass the United Nations’ minimum crash test standards.

GM ‘exploits weaknesses’

Urgent steps must be taken to address this, said Global NCAP secretary general David Ward. “GM has chosen to exploit the weak application of minimum crash test standards in Latin America to provide a version of the car that the company would be unable to sell either in Europe or North America.

“Two years ago GM announced a ‘Speak Up for Safety’ programme billed as an important step toward embedding a customer and safety-centered culture in every aspect of the business.

“Global NCAP warmly welcomes these commitments but believes that they now must have practical application in Latin America and in other emerging automotive markets.”

The letter details how the Euro NCAP test warned GM back in 2006 that the Aveo was unimpressive: the car’s bodyshell became unstable in crash tests and injuries to the crash test dummy “indicated an unacceptably high risk of life-threatening injury”.

Yet in the 2015 Latin NCAP test, the Chevrolet Aveo bodyshell again became unstable and poor dummy readings were again recorded for both head and chest.

This resulted in an even worse score of zero stars “primarily because, unlike in Europe, the Aveo in Mexico has no air bags fitted as standard,” said Global NCAP.

“For at least ten years, therefore, GM has known that without any airbags the Aveo will have a high risk of fatal injury in a frontal crash test at 40 mph. So clearly the safety of your customers in Mexico and in other countries in Latin America has been knowingly compromised.”

Damming words indeed. So what should GM do? Quite simply, adopt a new approach to vehicle safety, says Global NCAP.

The organisation wants GM to firstly, “globally ensure that from 2018 all its production in Latin America and worldwide pass the minimum UN crash test regulations (and equivalent Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) and include the crash avoidance system, electronic stability control.”

Second, it wants GM to “inform the Mexican Government that GM will support legislation for both minimum crash test standards and electronic stability control to be applied from 2018.”

GM has yet to respond.

UPDATE: GM responds

A GM spokesperson has contacted Motoring Research to say “GM shares the goal of improving road safety worldwide, including the adoption of basic auto safety standards in global markets and the phase-out of zero-star cars”.

The firm’s planned $5 billion investment in an all-new vehicle family for Latin America and other emerging growth markets will achieve this, it believes: the cars will have, at the very least, twin airbags, three-point seatbelts for all occupants and meet United Nations standards for structural performance in front and side impacts.

They will replace most of the high-volume cars in Latin America, including the two zero-star models criticised by Global NCAP.

They are, however, still some way off: the new vehicle family won’t appear before the 2019 model year. So, in the interim, GM is “expanding the availability of front airbags in a number of existing cars in Latin American markets, starting with the 2017 model year”.

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