Dr. V. E. “Bill” Haloulakos is an Aerospace Science Consultant/Professor, AIAA National Distinguished Lecturer Distinguished Engineering Educator Award Winner
From the the current daily news one would conclude that the Automobile Industry is the recall and design flaw remedy business instead of designing, producing and marketing new automobiles. Many millions, yes millions, of autos are being recalled be it because of faulty airbags, fuel lines, ignition switches and their likes. Especially the airbag issues have resulted in congressional committee hearings with heated exchanges between industry representatives and members of Congress.
The public uses automobiles as if they are appliances, similar to the electrical and gas appliances used in the homes and industrial plants, but we never hear of massive recalls of those appliances and certainly we never hear of congressional hearings about
refrigerators, televisions or gas-fired water heaters. Granted that one might wish to make the point that automobiles are more complicated but the cited home and industrial appliances are not really all that simple and there are plenty of things that can go wrong
with them but they seem to function properly and to the satisfaction of the general consumer public so as to not raise any serious issues about their performance. For example, poorly designed and untested simple gas-fired appliances, such as domestic water heaters and kitchen ovens, can generate enough carbon monoxide (CO) to poison entire households and large explosions that could blow up entire buildings, but we rarely hear of these things, if at all. Likewise, electrical appliances could also cause numerous safety problems but again we do not hear these things very often either. The reason that we not hear of serious safety problems with the electrical and the gas
appliances is that their parent industries had the foresight to form and establish their own “safety-policing” organizations namely the Underwriters and the American Gas Association Laboratories, usually referred to by their respective acronyms of UL and AGA respectively. These labs test all the appliances and their associated accessories for safety and performance and until they are properly checked and certified they cannot be installed as per the various local municipal codes. The UL was formed by the insurance underwriters who were originally responsible for all the losses incurred by such
appliances and their malfunctions when they first came into public use and the AGA was formed by the gas appliances manufacturers and the their gas-producing partners themselves at the urgency of the National Bureau of Standards (NBS). These labs are independent engineering organizations, although supported by their parent industries, they write the pertinent safety requirements and spell out in detail the tests to be conducted to assure conformity with these standards, which are adopted by the NBS and thus become part of the industry safety requirements.
The Automobile Industry has no such counterpart for its products, but each and every manufacturer of the automobile and/or its accessories, e.g. the safety airbags, conduct their own in-house testing and for a variety of reasons these tests seem to fall short of
their goals as manifested by all these recalls. As a matter of fact in the case of the airbags it was revealed at the recent Congressional hearings that the CEO of their manufacturer was aware of the problem of their explosions and shooting metal projectiles toward the drivers but he did not tell anyone, including the automobile makers who purchased and installed them, until two years later. See page B1, Wall Street Journal, Friday, November 21, 2014. This would not have been possible if they had an organization similar to the UL or AGA.
The Automobile Industry was given the opportunity to establish such a lab by the US Department of Transportation in the 1970s but they chose not to do so and elected to rely in the US Government to be their monitor. This points to the existence of a management structure that is “accommodationist” to the various pressure groups, be it the
Government, Labor, or the Environmentalists, and have forgotten their real purpose which was and still is to build and market safe, reliable and affordable products for the general consumer public.
This author addressed this situation in detail in an article titled “SOME THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS ON THE AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY” and posted in Businessthinker.com, March 26, 2012. The most noteworthy item in that article perhaps is the statement made to this author, back in 1976, by a General Motors VP that “SAFETY AND PERFORMANCE ARE NOT SOMETHING THAT CAN BE DONE BY ENGINEERING DESIGN BUT ONLY BY LEGISLATION”!!! Here was a high executive who needed the politicians to legislate the details of his job! It’s no wonder then that we have the present mess