BMW secrecy over unsafe cars shames the industry
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.