Transportation Secretary Foxx may summon automakers to a summit

Source: By Ashley Halsey III, Washington Post • Posted: Thursday, October 1, 2015

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

He didn’t call it a come-to-Jesus conversation or say that anyone was being taken to the woodshed, but there was no mistaking what U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx meant when he said it’s time to invite the world’s automakers to Washington for a frank conversation about integrity and their need to recall millions of defective vehicles.

“It’s time to bring everybody in here and have a deeper conversation,” Foxx said in a meeting with reporters Tuesday. “One of them is: ‘Look, folks, we have millions of people who rely on what you make every day to get everywhere from to work to putting their most precious cargo, their kids, in cars.’ ”

His comment came on the same day that federal regulators accused Fiat Chrysler Automobiles of underreporting the number of people who had died in crashes involving its vehicles. The disclosure by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration came more than two months after Fiat Chrysler agreed to pay up to $105 million in fines for failing to meet reporting requirements and fix cars effectively in recalls of 11 million vehicles.

“We need to have confidence that information we get [from automakers] is real and accurate information,” Foxx said.

Carmakers are required to file regular crash-data reports to NHTSA and inform the agency when they discover potential defects in their vehicles.

The auto industry has been caught in underreporting and misrepresentation to regulators in the past two years, as it has faced the largest number of recalls in its history.

In September, Volkswagen admitted that it had installed software in 11 million diesel vehicles that gave the appearance that the cars met federal emissions standards. Air-bag manufacturer Ta­kata, whose equipment is installed by at least 11 automakers, has faced allegations that it failed to disclose a deadly defect that has led to the recall of 19.2 million vehicles thus far.

The multiple recalls, virtually across the industry this year, came a year after General Motors admitted that it had failed to fix an ignition-switch problem that led to at least 169 deaths over the course of 10 years. The company acknowledged that some of its employees had known the switch was faulty for almost a decade, but the vehicles were not recalled until last year. In September, GM agreed to pay a $900 million fine to settle a criminal investigation.

Last year, Toyota admitted that it hid data that showed a defect in Lexus and Toyota vehicles that caused sudden unexpected acceleration. Toyota recalled more than 10 million cars and agreed to pay a $1.2 billion settlement.

“There are a number of issues on the table now that merit discussion across many of the manufacturers,” Foxx said. He said that no date had been set for a summit of automakers, and no invitations have been sent.

Fiat Chrysler said in a statement in response to Tuesday’s NHTSA disclosure that it “takes this issue extremely seriously and will continue to cooperate with NHTSA to resolve this matter and ensure these issues do not re-occur.”