It is generally accepted that the original equipment service segment cannot possibly service the entire existing vehicle population. OEMs acknowledge this through parts programs that sell to independent garages, and through voluntary agreements, both north and south of the border, that allow automotive aftermarket outlets access to repair tools and information (however flawed those agreements might be). But the recent situation regarding the Takata airbag recall provides a rare glimpse into what happens when the OEM network is the exclusive channel for a critical repair.
I recently reached out to Transport Canada, which monitors and assesses recall completion rates for all Canadian safety recalls. According to their most recent figures, to date approximately 6.7 million Takata airbags have been recalled in Canada, of which 3.0 million airbags have been replaced, which translates to 45% of the total, or less than half the number of potentially defective airbags out there.
Now, I want to be very clear that I don’t intend this to be an indictment of automakers or car dealers, or to suggest in any way that they are shirking their responsibilities. However, the fact that less than half of the total number of potentially defective airbags has been replaced is sobering.
Even if one factors into account that some of those unrepaired vehicles have in fact been removed from service – totalled in collisions, generally parted out, no longer operational – it still likely means that millions of vehicles with potentially lethal defective airbags are still on the roads.
This is a stark example of exactly why Canada needs a vibrant and healthy automotive aftermarket sector. There is simply no way that those who initially made and sold those cars would still be able to remain in contact with every owner of a vehicle over its lifespan. Nor, even if they were, would every owner be inclined to return to a dealer they’ve never done business with before – even for something as critically important as their own personal safety.
The independent service sector, on the other hand, is in a very different situation. They are charged with the continued safe operation of vehicles years beyond warranty, and they maintain an incredible amount of trust with those customers who continue to bring their cars to them for service. And while the replacement of defective airbags is certainly an important issue, far more valuable to the driving public is the continued safe operation of those vehicles, not just their safety in a collision.
And if dealer networks can’t get car owners to come back to get their airbags replaced at no cost to them, how on earth could they be expected to have those car owners return to them for years and years on end, past warranty, past all reasonable expectations? I certainly don’t think so. I doubt that the automakers and dealers think so. And I certainly hope that legislators, who are hearing from all sides regarding the importance of access to information, also recognize that it is not reasonable.
Canada needs a vibrant healthy automotive aftermarket to keep its population mobile, and safe.