Recalls don’t seem to hurt auto sales

Inside DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids before the Michigan International Auto Show. (Feb. 3, 2015)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As crews continue to roll out the carpet and polish the fenders of vehicles at this year’s Michigan International Auto Show at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids, one of the feature vehicles became the subject of yet another auto industry recall.

Jeep is recalling more than 228,000 SUVs worldwide to fix a software problem that can cause side air bags to inflate for no reason.

The recall, which covers 2014 and 2015 Jeep Cherokees, is the latest in a recent string of industry troubles with air bags that include deployment without a crash and inflation with so much force that the air bags throw shrapnel at drivers or passengers.

Fiat Chrysler, which makes Jeeps, says there have been a small number of inadvertent air bag deployments in extreme maneuvers when drivers dramatically change the angle of travel. Canadian safety regulators say the problem occurred mainly in off-road situations. Sudden air bag inflation can startle drivers and cause crashes, but Chrysler said it is not aware of any accidents or injuries.

Most of the recalled vehicles are in the U.S. and Canada. Dealers will recalibrate the software to change the threshold for inflating the air bags.

The number of vehicle recalls in the last few years may seem high. The New York Times crunched the numbers and found that on average, the auto industry issued two recalls each day in 2014.

>>Online: Check to see if there is a recall on your car

Why all the recalls? Part of the reason may be that drivers are hanging on to their vehicles longer. The older the car, the more the chance that a defect, either unknown or ignored — like in the case of the General Motors ignition switch recalls — will come to light.

The other reason may be the globalization of the auto industry, which means the same part may go into a model sold around the world.

“So if you have one component go wrong, you’re talking about thousands and thousands, hundreds of thousand of vehicles, potentially — maybe into the millions,” said Mike Wall, an auto analyst with IHS.

But the recalls don’t seem to hurt sales. Take the Cherokee: Jeep’s popular SUV saw sales figures jump nearly 18 percent in the last year.

Overall, vehicle sales are expected to continue their five-year growth spurt.

Still, drivers should expect to see more recalls, Wall said.

“There’s a lot of safety technology and a lot of content in there,” he explained. “But they’re also incredibly complex machines. So it’s not uncommon to see some of these getting called back for some sort of repair or modification. I think consumers get that.”

The Michigan International Auto Show opens to the public on Thursday.

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