Massive recall of faulty vehicle airbags ordered

Motor Industry Association chief executive David Crawford (left) and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi announce the vehicle recall. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

A recall of 50,000 vehicles with faulty airbags has been ordered by the Government.

The vehicles, equipped with faulty alpha-type Takata airbags, will come into effect in 40 working days.

A ban will also be slapped on the importation of vehicles containing the alpha-type airbags, with an estimated 5000 to 7000 flooding into the country every month.

Intensive monitoring will be introduced on a further 257,000 vehicles that contain non-alpha Takata airbags, believed to be less dangerous.

Built by Japanese company Takata, the airbags’ inflators contain ammonium nitrate that may rupture during airbag deployment sending shards of shrapnel into drivers and passengers.

The recall has until now been voluntary in New Zealand after a global recall was ordered of up to 100 million vehicles worldwide across 12 different car manufacturers.

But New Zealanders have been slow to have their airbags replaced on a voluntary basis, with only 29,000 people taking up the free replacement offer.

This inaction was criticised by Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi when announcing the compulsory recall, who questioned why the previous government and officials had not taken the issue more seriously.

“We have found it difficult to get information from government entities about the number of vehicles affected and to date, I’m yet to find any advice or briefings that were given to the previous government about this issue.”

After becoming aware of the problem Faafoi ordered a report to quantify the size of the problem and will set up a monitoring group that will report monthly on progress.

David Crawford, chief executive of the Motor Industry Association who has been managing the voluntary recall, said he had been trying to tell the New Zealand Transport Authority how serious the problem was but had found it impossible to escalate the issue to senior management.

Like a “stuck record” he had continued to flag the problem but had not written directly to the Minister.

While he was confident the industry could manage the huge repair task, Crawford said getting parts will be a challenge, as would finding enough skilled technicians to do the work.

“If we had all the parts now it would take over a year just doing the airbag replacement and no other servicing, that’s how many resources are needed to manage this.”

Simon Bridges, who was transport minister from 2014 to 2017, said he had followed all advice provided to him that recommended a staged, voluntary recall was the best option.

He was supportive of the Government’s compulsory recall.

The Transport Agency did not answer questions about whether it had briefed Bridges or taken MTA’s concerns seriously.

Spokesperson Andrew Knackstedt said the agency had supported the voluntary recall and made information available on its website for anyone concerned their vehicle may be affected.