By Ryan Beene, Crain News Service
WASHINGTON (Dec. 2, 2015) — Senior executives from 15 auto makers met Dec. 1 with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to discuss broad improvements to auto safety after several major defect crises have tarnished the industry's reputation in recent years.
In a statement, DOT Press Secretary Namrata Kolachalam called the meeting “very productive” and said the group would reconvene in January. Cybersecurity issues were also discussed, though specific possible safety and cybersecurity initiatives weren't disclosed.
The industry has battled high profile defect crises such as the General Motors Co. ignition-switch and Takata Corp. airbag inflator recalls that have made frequent news headlines. Failing to detect and properly assess defects early in the Takata airbag and GM ignition switch recalls contributed to the recalls mushrooming into major safety crises that together claimed more than 100 lives.
The meeting, held at DOT headquarters in Washington, D.C., was called by Mr. Foxx to address his concern that “the public has lost faith in the auto industry's commitment to safety,” he said in a Nov. 3 letter obtained by Automotive News that invited an executive to the summit.
The participants included General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne, Nissan North America Chairman Jose Munoz, Ford Motor Co. Vice President for Sustainability, Environment, and Safety Engineering Kim Pittel, and other senior executives. Other representatives from the auto makers also attended.
“We had a productive discussion on the important safety issues facing our industry, and we are pleased to be part of this dialogue,” GM said in an emailed statement. “This type of industry and government discussion is in the best interest of overall vehicle safety, and importantly, our customers. We look forward to continuing the dialogue.”
One auto executive who attended the meeting with Mr. Foxx said the secretary expressed a desire for auto makers and the government to work more closely on safety issues, in part to identify vehicle defects and tackle recalls more quickly.
Mr. Foxx also pressed auto makers for ideas on how to achieve those goals, the executive said, who asked not to be named because the meeting was private.
“Participants were asked to come prepared with suggestions to share, and spend the next month working toward concrete commitments to industry-wide safety measures,” Ms. Kolachalam said in the statement. “We view this meeting as a good and important step in an ongoing conversation between the U.S. DOT and auto industry executives.”
An FCA spokesman declined to comment on the meeting and a Honda spokesman confirmed Honda's participation in the meeting but declined to elaborate beyond the Transportation Department's statement.
According to DOT, other auto executives who attended were:
• Ludwig Willisch, CEO, BMW of North America Group.
• Rick Schostek, executive vice president, Honda North America Inc.
• Dave Zuchowski, CEO, Hyundai Motor America.
• Chris Marchand, executive vice president for operations, Jaguar Land Rover North America.
• Michael Sprague, COO, Kia Motors America.
• Jim O'Sullivan, CEO, Mazda North America Operations.
• Mark Chaffin, vice president, fixed operations, Mitsubishi Motors North America .
• Thomas Doll, president, Subaru of America.
• Diarmuid O'Connell, vice president of corporate and business development, Tesla Motors Inc.
• Chris Nielsen, senior vice president, Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America.
• Michael Horn, CEO, Volkswagen Group of America.
This report appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.