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UK legislators voice severe criticism of GM Vauxhall for reaction to Zafira car fires

01 May 2017

Vauxhall showed "a reckless disregard for safety" in allowing customers to keep driving Zafira cars after a fire risk was identified, MPs said. It was "morally reprehensible" for the car maker not to warn customers sooner, members on the Transport Select Committee said, and Vauxhall was too slow in general to take action over the fires, which came to prominence in 2015.

Zafira B - Image: Vauxhall
Zafira B - Image: Vauxhall

The fires started behind the glove box in the heating and ventilation system, and were a problem in Zafira model B cars, which are still subject to a recall. The first report of a Zafira fire was noted by Vauxhall in 2009, and in 2014, internal concerns over a pattern in reports of fires were raised. However, Vauxhall did not launch an investigation into the fires until August 2015. At that time Vauxhall had logged 161 fires.
Vauxhall was "too slow to acknowledge drivers' concerns, too slow to begin an investigation, too slow to address the causes and too slow to alert drivers of real safety concerns. Drivers and their families were needlessly put at risk," committee chair Louise Ellman said.
The full scale of the Vauxhall fires did not emerge until a Facebook group, the London Fire Brigade and then the BBC's Watchdog programme started noticing and then highlighting a pattern. No one was seriously hurt in one of these car fires.
Vauxhall said that "there are lessons to be learned from the cases of fire in Zafira B models" as to how it investigates fires. It said it had altered its recall process "to ensure we complete recalls swiftly and minimise customer inconvenience".
However, it said that it had "made it clear to customers" during the first recall letters "how they should operate the heating and ventilation system to keep them safe".
It added that it had made "very good progress" with the second recall. "As of today 183,172 vehicles have had the second recall carried out and we have been working closely with DVSA as we complete the process," the car maker said.
That figure represents 79.1% of the affected cars. Vauxhall said it was aiming for a rate of 85% given that a certain number of vehicles have been stolen, seriously damaged, scrapped, exported or "sold to trade".
The MPs were especially scathing about the fact that Vauxhall let people drive in cars that had been recalled and "fixed", even when engineers knew they could still catch fire. Vauxhall launched the first recall in December 2015.

"In the absence of any explanation for its tardy response from the witnesses that appeared before us we can only conclude that commercial considerations and the need to avoid reputational damage were put ahead of safety; this is unacceptable and morally reprehensible," they said.

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