Was 2014 really the "Year of the Recall"? You better believe it: according to Detroit News, as of December 31, 63.95 million U.S. vehicles had been recalled by automakers large and small.
GM & TAKATA
That sky-high figure shouldn't be surprising. In October, we reported that 52 million U.S. cars, trucks, SUVs, and motorcycles -- 20 percent of all vehicles on the road -- had been recalled. General Motors was responsible for more than half that number, with 26.5 million vehicles recalled.
By the end of the year, nearly 500,000 more had been added to GM's list, bringing the company's final tally to 26.95 million (not including three million more GM vehicles recalled in other countries). The total bill for all those recalls -- plus the compensation fund for victims of the company's faulty ignition switches -- was calculated to be $4.1 billion.
But while GM dominated the news throughout the early part of 2014, Japanese supplier Takata grabbed headlines for the latter half of the year. As of today, 14.5 million vehicles have been recalled because of Takata airbags equipped with ammonium nitrate propellant. Unfortunately, that compound becomes unstable when exposed to high humidity, exploding upon deployment and spraying vehicle occupants with shrapnel. At least six deaths in the U.S. and Japan have been linked to Takata's flawed airbags.
The Takata recall has been especially contentious because of its geographical scope: the company and its partner automakers have tried to limit airbag recalls to high-humidity states and territories, like those along the U.S. Gulf Coast. As more data about the devices becomes available, though, the recall has gradually expanded, and it's possible that it could grow further in 2015.
Honda was hit particularly hard by the airbag recalls. Takata's biggest client recalled 8.9 million vehicles in the U.S. -- more than Honda has ever recalled in a given year.
A NEW ERA?
The record-setting recall numbers from 2014 are more than twice the previous high of 2004, when 30.81 vehicles in the U.S. were affected. Apart from 2004 and 2014, U.S. recalls have affected an average of 17 million vehicles in the 21st century.
Will recalls in 2015 drift back into normal territory? Maybe, maybe not.
Thanks to 2014's high-profile problems, automakers were faced with greater scrutiny from the government and from consumers. That scrutiny, in turn, has caused car companies to police themselves more closely, becoming proactive in fixing potential problems. As a result, automakers seem to have begun warming to the approach that it's better to be safe than sorry, which could keep recall figures above average -- at least for a while.