The newly energized National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which only recently became active again, continued its safety push yesterday when it announced it was opening a preliminary probe into possible wheel problems on the Ford Edge Sport. Under the leadership of Mark Rosekind, an administrator known for his hands-on activist approach when he was an official at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the NHTSA has, in the past several weeks:
· Pushed Ford to recall more than 1.2 million vehicles for door latch and other problems
· Succeeded in having Takata sign a consent decree, expanding the airbag recall
· Lobbied Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA) to speed up its 1.56 million-Jeep recall for faulty gas tanks
· Began to meet with automotive industry executives to establish lines of communication with them
· Announced plans to have a series of safety summits to establish a “culture of safety” in Detroit
All of these announcements have appeared since the beginning of April, including NHTSA’s decision to take control of the Takata airbag recall directly under powers granted to the safety agency in 2000. Those powers allow NHTSA to set new goals for parts supplies; require manufacturers to increase the number of device replacement kits in recalls; allow the agency to establish new priorities for replacement parts, and allow the agency to order other parts manufacturers to increase the supply of replacement parts. The powers have never been used before.
Yesterday’s announcement is the first time in the memory of some observers that the agency has opened an initial probe of a potential automotive safety problem on the basis of one complaint. That complaint, filed by a consumer in November 2014, reported that as the motorist drove his Edge along a roadway, the utility vehicle suddenly dipped on the right front as the wheel failed and spun into a field. The problem involved Ford’s 22-inch wheel that broke into pieces as he drove. Investigators found the wheel pieces near the scene of the accident.
Automotive News reported yesterday that the agency began its probe to assess the “scope, frequency and safety-related consequences of the alleged defect in the subject vehicles.” According to the agency’s website, only 20,000 vehicles are involved, at this time. Through a spokesman, Ford promised to “cooperate with NHTSA on this … as we always do.”