On the one hand, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is a great defender of consumers’ rights and a check against a powerful auto industry. On the other, the NHTSA is a federal agency that must uphold strict guidelines, some of which have nothing to do with safety. In the case of a Ford (NYSE:F) recall over a defective door chime system, driver safety is not at stake, but nearly 24,000 cars are coming back for service.
The Detroit News reports Ford is conducting a voluntary recall of 23,800 electric vehicles that have door chimes that don’t sound when the door opens. The group of vehicles includes the C-Max hybrid and plug-in EV (model year 2013) as well as the Ford Focus Electric (2012-2013), both cars that idle with only the slightest engine noise since they operate on electric motors. Without a door chime alerting the driver the engine is running, it’s more likely for the driver to step away from the activated car by accident.
Electric vehicles differ from internal combustion engine cars on numerous levels, but the sound of the engine is the most telling distinction. Key fobs supply smart technology for these vehicles, making it impossible to start cars without a fob inside. Thus the need for a sonic alert arises. In contrast to the NHTSA, auto safety advocacy groups focus on the dangers of vehicles on U.S. roads.
Ford had a much more pressing recall on its hands in September when 370,000 Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town Car vehicles — mostly used by police departments and taxi fleets — had issues with steering wheel corrosion. According to The New York Times, the “regional” recall solution, which resolved issues in cars only where snow and ice played a role in safety, is an industry practice auto safety advocates disparage.
The Center for Auto Safety, which has been critical of the NHTSA’s response to dangers in the Jeep (FIATY.PK) Grand Cherokee (recalled earlier this year), considers regional recalls a shortcut for automakers. Nonetheless, it’s clear industry accountability is at an all-time high. Ford’s corrective measures will be fixing the software enabling the door chime, which will not be costly for the automaker to complete.
The number of vehicles being recalled is also not a concern for Ford. Automakers are more proactive than ever in fixing their cars before the NHTSA tell them to do so, which has led to better overall consumer perception and a consistently rising stock price. In some cases, the fix may be as simple as correcting software to make a door chime sound, a true product of the electric vehicle age.