Automakers typically recall cars or trucks when they’ve identified a defect that could jeopardize public safety. That’s not always a simple call, though. Many problems are obvious hazards — like faulty airbags. Other defects, however, are less clear-cut. What if a car has windshield wipers that, under very rare conditions, might become “improperly torqued”? (Toyota faced this situation last year.) Should the company issue a costly recall? Or let it slide?
Since the 1990s, more and more automakers appear to be erring on the side of issuing a recall — even for seemingly minor problems. In February, for instance, Kia recalled 11,000 vehicles simply because the door stickers gave incorrect guidance on tire inflation.
Todd Wasserman offers some other possible explanations:
While the public climate may be prompting some proactive recalls, Roger Lanctot, associate director of Strategy Analytics, blames onboard software and algorithms related to airbag deployment. Lanctot points out that GM, Nissan, Toyota and Chrysler, among others, have instituted recalls related to the technology over the last two years. “This is just the beginning of software recalls,” Lanctot says. “In the past it was all about mechanical failures.”
Another possible factor is the auto industry’s use of modular components. As The Wall Street Journal points out, more and more carmakers are using more and more components across different models. While that saves costs, “if things do go wrong, auto makers can have a hard time containing them,” the article notes.
Danny Vinik puts the Toyota recall in perspective:
Just two months after General Motors’ controversial recall, Toyota announced its own recall on Wednesday morning of 6.4 million vehicles across 30 different models from 2004 to 2013—more than the total number of automobiles in Belgium alone. In fact, the 6.4 million vehicles are more than twice as many cars as are in New Zealand, according to data from the World Bank. …
The recall of 6.4 million vehicles is the fifth largest in history—slightly less than Toyota’s 2010 recall for faulty gas pedals.