Controversy is growing as Mercedes-Benz Korea and GM Korea have not been responding to the Korean government's request to recall vehicles equipped with "Takata airbags" at risk of putting driver’s lives at risk by exploding abnormally.
According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on November 7, there are 17 companies that sold vehicles loaded with Takata airbags in Korea. Currently, 14 recalls are underway. Mercedes-Benz and GM Korea have not been responding to repeated requests from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. In particular, Mercedes-Benz sold the largest number of imported cars including 58,606 units, a record high, from January to October of this year but did not make a recall.
Airbags made by Japanese Takata Co. raised concern that when the airbags are deployed due to vehicle collisions, excessive explosive force can cause metal fragments to threaten drivers’ safety. To date, 19 people have been killed and more than 200 have been injured in Takata airbag-related accidents around the world. As the controversy spread, the Takata airbag was nicknamed an “airbag of death.” Since 2013, about 100 million units have been recalled worldwide.
Hyundai, Kia, Ssangyong, and other Korean automakers do not use Takata air bags. In Korea, most vehicles that use Takata air bags are imported brands. There have been no accidents related to Takata airbags reported in Korea yet. Last year, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport judged that Takata airbag-related accidents could occur in Korea and requested import car companies to make a recall for vehicles with Takata airbags.
According to the ministry, a total of 165,861 vehicles with Takata airbags were sold by Mercedes, Korea GM, and GM Korea in Korea. Mercedes sold 18,724 units produced from 2007 to 2012 including 13,811 units of the C Class, 2,476 units of the GLK, and 810 of the E Class. Korea GM sold 146,078 vehicles manufactured between 2009 and 2012 including 72,280 units of the Lacetti Premier and 42,214 units of the Cruise. GM Korea sold 1,059 vehicles produced from 2005 to 2012 including 562 units of the Saab 9-3 and 95 units of the Cadillac BLS 955.
The three companies including Mercedes-Benz have not made recalls, saying that no Takata airbag-related accident has occurred to their cars and they have been internally investing the defects of airbags. Mercedes-Benz told the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport that they would collect 284 units of their vehicles sold in Korea and test them at its headquarters in Germany and decide whether or not to make a recall by the end of this year.
But Mercedes-Benz came under fire as the automaker began to make a recall for 350,000 Mercedes-Benz vehicles in China on October 15. This is because what Mercedes-Benz recalled in China were SLK and A-class cars manufactured during the 2006-2012 period which are the same car model as were sold in the Korean market. Korean Mercedes-Benz customers who heard the news ran down Mercedes-Benz for discriminating against Korean customers in safety matters.
The Consumer Right Council, a consumer right advocacy group, also held a press conference last month and called for a forced recall, saying that it was irresponsible not to recall products that do not guarantee driver safety. "We are monitoring whether or not the Mercedes-Benz and others actually started recalls in China," said an official of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. “We are considering taking a stronger action.”