The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) has launched a Federal Court action against Mercedes-Benz Australia for allegedly minimising the dangers of Takata airbags.
Mercedes-Benz is accused of having some call centre operators downplay the risk associated with Takata airbags, telling some owners it was “okay (or safe)” to drive cars fitted with the potentially deadly inflators.
Mercedes-Benz responded with a statement arguing it’s “committed to ensuring the safety of its customers and takes its compliance with its Australian Consumer Law obligations seriously”.
Its statement has been published in full lower in this story.
The ACCC alleges the company “contravened the Takata compulsory recall notice by minimising the risks associated with defective Takata airbags”, and accuses it of “failing to use attention-capturing, high-impact language”.
According to the ACCC, Mercedes-Benz call centre staff made representations Takata-equipped cars were safe to drive “on at least 73 occasions” between July 2018 and March 2020.
In one example provided by the ACCC, one call centre operator told a customer the recall “is more of a precautionary measure”.
“You are still okay to drive your vehicle up until the point of completion of this recall, and that’s due to the fact that the Beta hasn’t shown any faults,” one call centre operator said, according to the ACCC.
Beta-branded Takata airbags are linked to one fatality and one serious in injury in Australia, and Mercedes-Benz cars have reportedly had their Takata airbags fail overseas.
“The recall notice required suppliers to communicate with consumers in a way that emphasised the danger of the Takata airbags, particularly the risk of serious injury or death from misdeployment of the airbag inflator,” the ACCC says.
“It also required suppliers to draw attention to the urgency of having airbags replaced.”
Mercedes-Benz argues the recall notice “did not require Mercedes-Benz owners to cease driving their vehicles”.
“Mercedes-Benz Australia does not understand how saying an owner could continue to drive their vehicle could be a breach of the Recall Notice,” the company said.
The ACCC is seeking “declarations, pecuniary penalties, an order requiring a product recall compliance program, and costs”.
A spokesperson for Mercedes-Benz issued the following statement:
“Mercedes-Benz Australia is aware that a proceeding has been commenced against it by the ACCC in the Federal Court of Australia.
“The ACCC alleges that Mercedes-Benz Australia has breached its obligations under the Takata Airbag Recall Notice in relation to the way it communicated with certain owners who contacted its Takata call centre during the period of the recall.
“Mercedes-Benz Australia is committed to ensuring the safety of its customers and takes its compliance with its Australian Consumer Law obligations seriously.
“Mercedes-Benz Australia has co-operated with the ACCC throughout its investigation and has taken steps to improve its internal systems and call centre operations to address ACCC concerns.
“Mercedes-Benz vehicles do not contain Takata ‘Alpha’ airbags identified as critical by the ACCC, and the recall process overseen by the ACCC did not require affected Mercedes-Benz vehicles to be off the road or owners to cease driving them until the repair was undertaken.
“As the Recall Notice did not require Mercedes-Benz owners to cease driving their vehicles, Mercedes-Benz Australia does not understand how saying an owner could continue to drive their vehicle could be a breach of the Recall Notice.
“In Australia, the compulsory Takata airbag recall commenced during March 2018.
“Owners of Mercedes-Benz vehicles with affected Takata airbags have been sent at least six written letters, including one registered letter, using high-impact language in the form approved by the ACCC under the Recall Notice, together with emails and SMS messages where those contact details are held, which emphasise the importance and urgency of the recall, and encourage them to bring their vehicles in for repair.
“To date, the affected airbags have been replaced in 97.7 percent of the Mercedes-Benz vehicles involved in the recall. However, there are owners who have not brought their vehicles in for a complimentary airbag replacement.
“Mercedes-Benz Australia continues to contact the owners of the outstanding vehicles for the purpose of booking airbag replacements as soon as possible.
“We urge those owners to contact their authorised Mercedes-Benz retailer immediately, or contact us on 1300 659 307 to arrange a booking.”
The recall relates to airbag inflators manufactured by now-defunct Japanese company Takata.
Airbags included in the recall rely on a propellant gas that degrades when exposed to heat and humidity.
If a vehicle with a faulty inflator is involved in a crash, the metal airbag inflator housing might rupture, sending metal shrapnel shooting into the cabin.
The problem poses a serious risk of injury or death to occupants. More than 20 people have been killed globally by faulty Takata airbag inflators, including two in Australia, and more than 230 people have been seriously injured.
Although all Takata airbags are dangerous, some are more deadly than others.
Airbag inflators labelled ‘Alpha’ have a 50 per cent chance of shooting shrapnel into the cabin when deployed, although even the less dangerous ‘Beta’ airbags can be lethal.
More recently, a pool of vehicles fitted with dangerous airbags known as ‘non-azide driver inflators’ has been identified.
Carmakers have started buying back older cars fitted with these inflators, as it’s cheaper than sourcing and replacing an airbag replacement.
A recall for all vehicles with Takata airbag inflators was made mandatory by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in February 2018.
Carmakers needed to replace all faulty airbags by December 31, 2020, or face strict penalties.
Head to https://ismyairbagsafe.com.au/ and enter your number plate into the box. It will then direct you to the relevant manufacturer website.