BMW se­crecy over un­safe cars shames the in­dus­try

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Business - Ben Mar­low

It seems fairly ob­vi­ous to me, and I would have thought just about any­one else with an ounce of com­mon sense, that a car that can sud­denly conk out while it is be­ing driven rep­re­sents a fairly grave threat to hu­man life and should be taken off the road im­me­di­ately. Ex­cept, it would seem, to the se­nior folk at BMW, which is both odd and deeply wor­ry­ing, be­cause it is in the busi­ness of mak­ing cars – lots of them – and has been do­ing it for more than a hun­dred years. In 2016, it man­u­fac­tured al­most 2.4m ve­hi­cles, so you would think it would not only be able to spot a po­ten­tially fa­tal flaw fairly eas­ily but also act re­spon­si­bly and swiftly when one was un­cov­ered.

Not ac­cord­ing to the Driver and Ve­hi­cle Stan­dards Agency, the gov­ern­ment body that is re­spon­si­ble for car safety in the UK. It al­leges that BMW not only kept quiet for years about elec­tri­cal fail­ures in some of its cars, but also pro­vided in­cor­rect in­for­ma­tion about the faults.

It has now been forced to re­call more than 300,000 cars for ur­gent re­pair, 10 times more than were orig­i­nally taken off the road, after the true scale was fi­nally re­vealed in re­cent weeks.

The scan­dal is an­other blow to the for­tunes of the car in­dus­try. The rep­u­ta­tion of the big man­u­fac­tur­ers is cur­rently at an all-time low after VW’S diesel­gate bomb­shell and a se­ries of other safety crises.

Mean­while, sales in the UK have fallen rapidly amid a fierce reg­u­la­tory clam­p­down, and the es­tab­lished names are strug­gling to adapt to a new world of elec­tric and driver­less cars, led by Sil­i­con Val­ley’s tech gi­ants.

BMW was first made aware of the ter­ri­fy­ing flaw in 2011: on some mod­els, the en­gine could cut out with­out warn­ing, caus­ing all elec­tri­cal com­po­nents to switch off, in­clud­ing the brake lights and haz­ard lights.

The car­maker re­called 750,000 ve­hi­cles in the US, Ja­pan, Canada, and South Africa in 2013 but it wasn’t un­til 2017 that cars were taken off the road in the UK, after for­mer Gurkha Narayan Gu­rung was killed on Christ­mas Day the pre­vi­ous year.

The orig­i­nal re­call was lim­ited to 36,000 petrol cars made be­tween 2009 and 2011, but BMW has now been forced to call 312,000 in for test­ing, some of which were made as long ago as March 2007.

This raises the ex­tra­or­di­nary pos­si­bil­ity that some BMW own­ers have been driv­ing po­ten­tially lethal cars for more than a decade. What’s more, the DVSA says it be­came aware of the is­sues in 2014 but after re­ceiv­ing as­sur­ances from BMW, de­cided to take no ac­tion.

The car­maker de­nies pro­vid­ing in­cor­rect in­for­ma­tion or re­main­ing silent and claims the orig­i­nal re­call was made in agree­ment with in­spec­tors. Ei­ther way, it still failed to ad­dress the faults prop­erly and allowed hun­dreds of thou­sands of po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous cars to re­main on British roads for many years.

Diesel­gate should have been a wa­ter­shed mo­ment for car­mak­ers, but the calami­ties keep com­ing. A crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion has been launched into how Vaux­hall han­dled scores of its Zafira model burst­ing into flames, and in re­cent days VW has had to re­call tens of thou­sands of cars with de­fec­tive seat belts.

Some soul-search­ing is des­per­ately needed at the very top of the in­dus­try if it is to re­gain the trust of con­sumers.

Diesel­gate should have been a wa­ter­shed mo­ment but calami­ties keep com­ing

Terry Leahy in dis­guise

The City has never quite been able to work out Sains­bury’s boss Mike Coupe. He has been called aloof and pro­fes­so­rial. He claims to have no ego.

Un­like pre­de­ces­sor Justin King, who was some­thing of show­man, Coupe is very much re­tail’s quiet man.

Yet for some­one who seems un­com­fort­able in the lime­light, he has made quite the mark since tak­ing charge four years ago. First came a shock takeover of Ar­gos, now a block­buster £15bn merger with Asda.

Per­haps he se­cretly sees him­self as the new Terry Leahy? In the space of just two years, the mega deals will fun­da­men­tally change the land­scape of the su­per­mar­ket in­dus­try, just as Tesco did un­der Leahy. The ques­tion is whether the frenzy will leave Sains­bury’s bet­ter off.

Those that worked with the for­mer Tesco king­pin say there is a vi­tal dis­tinc­tion be­tween the pair: Tesco got big by con­tin­u­ally com­ing up with new ideas that con­sumers loved, like its Club­card and dis­count range; whereas there is a sus­pi­cion that Sains­bury’s is go­ing for scale over strat­egy. It wouldn’t be the first.

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