NHTSA’s Chief Urges Automakers to Be Proactive on Recalls

The nation’s new auto-safety regulator arrived at the Detroit Auto Show today to reiterate his tougher approach to U.S. industry oversight and tell executives to be proactive on rooting out potential safety defects.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will be fixing the defect-detection and recall system, Mark Rosekind told reporters after his first meeting with car industry executives since taking over as head of the agency last month. He said such improvements will naturally produce more recalls.

“We’d rather have people being preemptive rather than waiting too long and making a mistake,” Rosekind said. “You cannot save those lives after they’re gone.”

Automakers recalled more than 60 million U.S. cars and trucks last year, more than double the previous record set in 2004, and NHTSA levied more than $126 million in fines. The industry will be even under more scrutiny this year than in 2014, Rosekind said.

Rosekind toured the floor of the North American International Auto Show, seeing demonstrations of vehicles from six companies including Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Co., said Gordon Trowbridge, a spokesman for the agency. Rosekind later had a roundtable discussion with executives from about 20 automakers.

Recall Response

Rosekind said his message was he wanted to work with the companies to develop strong safety cultures. NHTSA should help them to foster innovation, Rosekind said, and he wanted to learn from them what the “safety future should be.”

Rosekind said automakers and regulators must figure out ways to get more consumers to go to dealers for the needed safety repairs.

“The target has to be 100 percent,” Rosekind said.

NHTSA’s primary goal is to reduce highway fatalities, and every car company has the same priority, said John Bozzella, president and chief executive officer of the Association of Global Automakers, which represents the U.S. units of about 12 carmakers including Toyota and Honda Motor Co.

“That’s a shared mission of the industry and the agency,” Bozzella said. “We’ve made progress, and we need to continue that progress.”

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