Recalls By the Numbers

Last month Toyota was unfortunately forced to recall 2.43M hybrids around the world for a stalling issue caused by a software error. The vehicles don’t correctly detect drivetrain issues and can stall without warning at high speeds instead of entering a failsafe ‘limp home’ mode. Over 800K of these vehicles are in the US. What makes this recall unique is that Car and Driver reports Toyota has already recalled cars twice to update software in this system, first in Feb 2014 and then again in July 2015. As a software engineer I have to wonder, is it still the same problem, are they just now discovering new problems, or did they introduce different issues with their prior ‘fixes’?

Complex software-driven systems benefit from detailed monitoring and fine-tuning. Seeing that it took more than three years after the last recall to issue a new recall, it is clear that the good people at Toyota, like most OEMs, do not have the ability to monitor and analyze how the software is working on the road.

Toyota’s software woes continue with an additional 168K US cars recalled last week for airbag software problems. But Toyota is not alone, last month GM recalled 1M vehicles due to a bug that can cause steering malfunction. Also in September Honda recalled 232K vehicles for a rear camera software fault.

Stout Research states that the fix rate in the US within the first 9 months of a recall is approximately 40% for vehicles that are less than 5 years old.

Putting these numbers together, we can expect that next summer we will still have:

  • 480,000 Toyota hybrids that might suddenly stall
  • 100,800 Toyota vehicles that might not deploy airbags in a crash
  • 600,000 GM vehicles that might suddenly steer wrong
  • 139,200 Honda vehicles where you can’t trust your backup camera

We know they need new software.  The new software is available. But a grand total of 1.32M vehicles that still need new software will be on the road next summer from recalls in the last two months.

We are up in arms when our iPhones are a bit slow downloading cat videos. Why then do we accept millions of vehicles on the road that need new software to ensure our safety?

The industry needs to move right now to whole car updates so problems are fixed in days not years.

The industry needs to move to an OTA system that lets them monitor the vehicle and know whether the fix worked.

The industry needs an OTA system like eSync.

Author: Rick Kreifeldt

Rick Kreifeldt is the Executive Director of the eSync Alliance. A technology executive with 25 years experience and 27 patents in Connected Cars, networked systems and signal processing.

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