New Delhi: What can you do, who can you appeal to, if your car has a manufacturing defect and the car company has refused to address it?
At present, no one. And if what the industry lobby group SIAM is saying is true, you won’t have a redressal mechanism in the near future either. SIAM on Monday unveiled a voluntary code on vehicle recall where recall and fixing any manufacturing defect is the manufacturer’s prerogative, with no punitive action prescribed.
India is among the few growing automobile markets which do not have an official vehicle recall policy. This means, no car, bike or truck maker is bound to repair any manufacturing defect in your vehicle today – it may choose to do so if the defect is detected in a large number of vehicles and it becomes an image nightmare but there is no compulsion.
In markets like the United States, though, there is a well-defined mechanism to recall defective vehicles. Not just the US, most developed markets have defined rules for recall. In the US, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can force a manufacturer to recall a model (or a certain batch), if safety standards are proved to have not been met after an investigation by the agency. For environmental issues, the Environmental Protection Agency conducts a similar check.
But desi vehicle makers are great believers in self-regulation and have virtually left it to each vehicle maker’s conscience to decide on recall. SIAM President S Sandilya made it clear that “we believe in a voluntary policy, but the government could regulate if a company does not follow self-regulation. We are not against regulation but we need to assess its need”.
Sandilya’s comments come even as the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) and the Heavy Industries Ministry are planning to devise a mandatory auto recall policy by the end of this year.
An auto recall policy was also expected to be included in the amendment to the Motor Vehicle Act, 1988, which is currently in the works. However, the Sundar Committee Review of last year had abstained from suggesting any official policy. Instead, it had recommended “punishment for offences relating to manufacturing of faulty vehicles” through imprisonment of up to three months and/or a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh. But what is Rs 1 lakh for a manufacturer who may be selling cars at over Rs 10 lakh each?
Such a policy would look to define what a recall means by stipulating the conditions and the process the manufacturer needs to follow after issues are detected in a certain production batch. Manufacturers may be mandated to inform the government of any such move, apart from issuing an official statement in the media.
India has not been in the forefront on recalls. The recent ones worth recalling are Maruti Suzuki, which recalled 13,157 Swift and Ritz diesel models to inspect and fix engine defects last year. Honda Siel recalled 57,853 units of the City and then in September it recalled 72,115 units of the City to replace defective power-window switches. Toyota Kirloskar had also announced the recall of 41,000 units of its Etios and Liva models to replace a faulty inlet pipe to the fuel tank.
Meanwhile, Tata Motors had offered a free fix on 70,000-plus units of the Nano compact in November 2010, following incidents of fire. However, it abstained from calling it a ‘recall’. The largest-ever recall in India probably was for one lakh plus units of the Maruti A-Star in February 2010, the only competition coming again from Tata which asked 1.40 lakh Nano owners last year to bring back their cars for a change of the starter motor.
The voluntary recall code makes it clear that recall will be limited to those defects in the vehicle which were introduced during manufacturing and not because of normal wear and tear or due to improper handling of the car. The recall will apply to any vehicle for seven years after purchase, independent of the warranty provided by the manufacturer. But predictably, the SIAM policy has not specified any number of vehicles which, when found with similar manufacturing defects, must recall vehicles.