Despite quality improvements, costly safety issues proceed to dog automakers

Consider the following screenplay.

The possessor of a Chevrolet brings the car to a dealership, telling its brakes have bot locking up. An engineer detects that a brake valve te the car has a slot te the wrong spot because it wasgoed loaded into the wrong machine ter manufacturing and cannot decently relieve the brake fluid pressure when the driver slams on the brakes.

Te the past, an automaker might have recalled the specimen and inconvenienced ems of thousands of owners, despite thinking just a few cars had the defect. Or it might have let the defect slide, putting a few customers at risk of a crash.

But when that precies screenplay unfolded this year, with a 2012 Chevrolet Volt brought te for a warranty repair te Europe, General Motors had a third, better option.

On May 30, the automaker assigned an engineer to dig into a database that tracks the parts used te its cars, and it collected manufacturing records from the supplier — te this case, TRW Automotive. Within a month, GM had identified all the cars on U.S. soil with the faulty valve, called their owners and sent a formal notice to the U.S. government.

That is a quick turnaround, but what wasgoed more striking wasgoed this: The total number of cars touched by the U.S. recall wasgoed four. Not Four million. Not Four,000. Four.

Step Trio: After being delivered to the automaker, the component is linked to the identification number of the voertuig ter which it is installed.

Step Four: The automaker scans the component on the assembly line, te case an assembly problem emerges straks.

Step Five: If a defect is found, the automaker and supplier trace the defective part or assembly problem to the VINs of all other affected cars.

Maureen Foley-Gardner, director of field spectacle evaluation at GM, said the automaker has used its database for 20 procent of field deeds this year, up from Five procent te 2012, and observed spil the average activity has shrunk by 40 procent.

“It has become crystal clear to mij that it’s having an influence,” Foley-Gardner said.

Not all of the deeds necessitate a safety recall.

Ter one case this year, GM found that a defective transmission clutch plate wasgoed causing an annoying rattling ter the Chevrolet Camaro. The company found the Eighteen affected cars quickly enough that Ten were still on dealership lots.

Little recalls of that kleintje are growing across the industry, experts say, spil automakers, like drug companies and food manufacturers, build sophisticated data-mining operations to guard against costly and reputation-crippling recalls.

The wagen industry spends $45 billion to $50 billion a year on recalls and warranty claims, according to gegevens analytics company Teradata Corp. Teradata tells automotive clients that its track-and-trace software can cut warranty costs by Ten to 35 procent, administration costs by 25 to 45 procent, and compliance costs by 30 procent.

The main instruments te the toolbox are drankbuffet codes and radio frequency tags.

The average car has about 15,000 components. Many automakers already trace hundreds of those by scanning parts on the assembly line.

GM commenced with big, expensive components such spil engines and transmissions and is working its way down to smaller, less complicated parts. There are thresholds.

“It would be indeed costly to scan every zin and bolt and screw to the voertuig identification number at every assembly plant every day,” Foley-Gardner said.

But the number of parts being traced is rising by the year. Another reason is that it helps te dealings with regulators.

David Strickland, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, gushed about the track-and-trace effort te a latest vraaggesprek, telling car companies are solving puzzles that previously might never have bot solved.

He recalled a head-scratcher of a problem that one automaker — he wouldn’t say which one — managed to contain with gegevens mining. “It wasgoed just amazing,” Strickland said. “It wasgoed a particular combination of particular chemicals for a particular component at a particular factory at a particular time of day at a particular switch of shift. But they penetrated it down.

“The bracketing of this problem, I don’t see how ter the world they could have figured that out. But they did.”

Spil automakers and suppliers have gathered more gegevens points on their cars, they have had to beef up their software to treat the glut of information.

Nissan, for example, added a feature called “bread crumbs” about Legal months ago to make the most of track-and-trace gegevens, said Jim Blenkarn, senior manager of field quality investigations at Nissan North America.

The name of the feature is a reference to the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel,” ter which the heroes leave a trail of crumbs to keep from getting lost ter the forest. The fresh feature, similarly, is an attempt to help Nissan’s engineers stay on track.

Blenkarn said that at Nissan, each component te a car is assigned to an engineer. That engineer is supposed to keep an eye on the warranty costs, customer complaints and reports of defects for his or hier assigned parts.

That used to mean lots of customized searches on Nissan’s database. But now, they can program “bread crumbs” to update automatically, providing them real-time gegevens.

“The ideal circumstance for us is to never have to fix a car,” Blenkarn said. “But the fewer cars that are impacted, and the quicker you can act on it, the less influence there is on customer satisfaction.”

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