British car-maker Vauxhall has admitted it knew about cases of its Zafira cars catching fire as early as 2009 but didn’t launch an investigation until 2014 due to a lack of information.
Speaking in front of the UK Parliament’s Transport Select Committee, Vauxhall’s director of customer experience and corporate strategy Peter Hope said the company postponed taking action on the issue as the affected vehicles were either completely destroyed or no evidence was available suggesting a technical fault.
"For those vehicles prior to 2014, we didn't have enough evidence from the reporting system that we had to identify this as an issue that we could take action with,” Hope said.
"From 2014 onwards, there was a recognition of a pattern and that was then investigated extensively with our engineers."
Up to 300 Vauxhall Zafira B cars have caught fire since 2009 due to a problem with the heating and ventilation system. Last December, the car-maker recalled all existing 234,938 Zafira B cars in order to fix the problem, which was described as seriously putting drivers and passengers at risk.
Figures released in May by London Fire Brigade (LFB) show it has attended 120 Zafira fires since 2013, including 14 this year.
Facing the MPs’ criticism, Hope said the company’s actions were driven by the lack of information and not negligence.
"There are always areas of any manufacturer's actions where you think 'I would have loved to have either known that earlier or taken action earlier',” Hope said.
"But we didn't at that stage. Is that acceptable, is that something I feel happy with? No. But what I'm really trying to assure you is that it is never about casualness or contempt or a lack of taking this seriously."
The first recall in December aimed at replacing a resistor and a fuse in the ventilation system. However, General Motors-owned Vauxhall was forced to summon the cars back again in May, due to the same issue, this time to ‘improve robustness of the system’.
The cost of the recalls is expected to cost £33.5m, according to Charles Klein, an engineering executive director with General Motors, who also appeared before the committee.