Of these, 1.01 million cars were recalled in 2015 alone. In the five months to May this year, car makers have recalled around half a million cars and with increased scrutiny on the quality of vehicles, the year 2016 may end up seeing the highest number of recalls yet.
Between 2012 and 2015, 10.56 million passenger vehicles were sold in India, though there is no correlation between recalls and sales. Some of the vehicles recalled in the past four years were manufactured in 2007 and 2008.
India’s auto makers have started to recall vehicles more frequently after the country’s auto lobby group Siam adopted a voluntary code on vehicle recalls in 2012. Rising customer awareness over global recalls has also played a part.
Siam defines a recall thus: “...After release to markets, if in the opinion of manufacturer some vehicles have issues which pose a safety defect as defined herein, such vehicles are voluntarily inspected and rectified by the manufacturers/importers, free of cost."
Siam defines a safety defect as a potential safety issue that may exist in a motor vehicle or an item of motor vehicle equipment that may have originated at the design, manufacturing or assembly stage, and which poses a risk to safety of the occupants of the motor vehicle, pedestrians, and other vehicles and their occupants.
Among the popular models recalled in large numbers are Maruti Suzuki India Ltd’s Swift, Dzire, Ertiga, Alto; Honda Cars India Ltd’s Amaze, City, Civic, CR-V, Brio, Jazz; Volkswagen India Pvt. Ltd’s Polo, Jetta, Passat and Vento; and Ford India Pvt. Ltd’s EcoSport, Figo, Fiesta and Classic.
The recalls chart in India is led by Japan’s Honda which has recalled 513,768 units in India. This was also partly driven by a global exercise by the Tokyo-based parent, which recalled 51 million vehicles across the world that were equipped with airbags made by crisis-hit supplier Takata.
“Although these campaigns cause some inconvenience to our customers but we are confident that they will appreciate these campaigns in the interest of safety," said a Honda Cars India spokesperson.
Then comes Volkswagen India, which is also facing global scrutiny after it admitted to having fudged emission data in the US. In India, Volkswagen has recalled 402,007 units of models such as Polo and Jetta.
A spokesperson for Volkswagen did not immediately respond to an emailed questionnaire.
American car maker Ford Motor Co.’s Indian arm recalled 370,054 units followed by the country’s largest car maker Maruti Suzuki, which recalled 282,875.
“I think this (recall) is now become a part of how industry works. From time to time, all the manufacturers will have to recall. You can only work towards reducing the frequency. I don’t such steps affect brand perception," said R.C. Bhargava, chairman of Maruti Suzuki India Ltd.
The voluntary nature of recalls shows Ford’s commitment to complete transparency in sharing information with customers, said a spokesperson for the company’s local unit.
During this period, 1,699 units of the high-end Porsche Cayenne and one unit of the UK-built Jaguar XF were also recalled.
Vehicle recalls are a sensitive subject in India, with sharply divided camps and opinions. Some argue that a mandatory policy on vehicle recall with provisions of penalty will make industry more accountable. Others, usually auto industry executives, argue that recalls should be independent of any policy intervention that could hurt investor confidence.
According to Abdul Majeed, partner and national auto practice leader, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the government should make provisions for penalties.
Majeed stated that as many as 60 million vehicles were recalled globally in 2015 alone. “In other countries you have penalties and it is extremely important to have penalty provisions so that the root cause is analysed. Recall disclosure should also be brought under the purview of the law," he added.
Majeed added that it is heartening to see automakers in India voluntarily recalling cars.
A senior auto industry executive who spoke on condition of anonymity said any move to introduce penalties would be detrimental to the industry.
“Fearing penalties, companies will refrain from reporting such recalls, resulting in distrust among customers," the executive said.
In the US, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration carries out random checks on vehicles and asks manufacturers to issue a call for a recall if there are significant issues. The penalty is only levied when the manufacturer does not recall vehicles even after being notified.
On 21 April, Union minister of state for heavy industries and public enterprises G.M. Siddeshwara informed the Lok Sabha that the government is not considering a mandatory recall policy for automakers in the event of defects.
Incidentally, the ministry of road transport and highways in the draft Road Transport and Safety Bill, 2015 had proposed a mandatory recall policy for vehicles, keeping the safety of vehicle users in mind. The draft bill had even proposed that manufacturers should be liable to pay compensation for damage due to crashes caused by a manufacturing defect in vehicles. It had also proposed levying penalties on vehicle-makers for non-compliance in notifying manufacturing defects. The ministry is currently seeking comments from the public on the draft legislation.