Volkswagen Recalling Nearly 500,000 Beetles, Jettas in U.S.
Recalls Would Inspect Rear Suspension for Possible Fractures
Updated Oct. 17, 2014 12:54 p.m. ET
BERLIN— Volkswagen AG
is recalling more than a million cars total in the U.S., China, and Germany to inspect their rear suspension systems, joining the ranks of other global manufacturers that recently have faced massive safety recalls.
Volkswagen became aware of the issue as a result of an investigation in China, the company said on Friday.
In China, VW and its partner, FAW Group Corp., are recalling 563,605 locally made Sagitar sedans, which are based on the Jetta and use the same rear suspension system, and 17,485 imported Beetle sedans. The vehicles were made between May 2011 and May 2014.
In the U.S. it is recalling 400,602 Jetta models produced between 2011 and 2013 and 41,663 Beetle and Beetle Convertible models made between 2012 and 2013 in the U.S. In Germany, it is recalling 15,500 Beetle Coupe models. The Beetles affected are ones using the 1.2 TSI, 1.4 TSI, 1.6 TDI and 2.0 TDI motors and that were built in 2013. Beetle Cabrio and 2.0 TSI models aren’t affected.
A part called the rear trailing arm, which connects the rear axle to the body of the car and provides stability while driving, could become damaged in the event of a rear collision. If not repaired, the arm could “fracture suddenly” and “this could lead to a crash,” Volkswagen said, adding that no injuries or accidents related to the issue have been reported.
The recall is the latest example of how the drive to cut development costs through greater standardization of key car components across models and brands also carries global risks. Cars built using the same component not only share costs, but also the headaches if a part installed in several models is defective. The problem can quickly spread throughout global car markets and the subsequent recalls can quickly escalate to involve millions of vehicles.
To ward off damage from lawsuits and negative publicity on a car maker’s reputation, manufacturers with global reach are now moving a lot faster to bring cars in for inspection, even if the part in question may not be faulty.
General Motors Co. GM learned its lesson the hard way. The Detroit auto maker has faced congressional investigation, fines and public scrutiny for its failure to recall 2.6 million cars with an ignition switch problem that resulted in accidents and fatalities over a period of 11 years. Now, the company is reacting faster and has recalled more than 30 million vehicles in North America this year alone.
Toyota Motor Corp.
, the largest auto maker in the world, agreed to pay $1.2 billion this year in a settlement with U.S. authorities over its handling of a problem with cars that accelerated unintentionally. Now, Toyota is quick to hit the recall button. This week the company said it would recall 1.67 million vehicles to check problems from faulty brakes to fuel line parts.
Volkswagen also quickly reacted globally to what could turn out to be a local problem. The VW recall, by late Friday affecting just over one million vehicles, is likely to grow in size as other markets where the vehicles are sold join in. This makes the trailer arm recall one of the largest by Volkswagen, which prides itself on an exhaustive quality control regime. The company recalled 384,181 vehicles in China last year to repair problems with a gearbox in some locally produced models.
Volkswagen insisted that the rear suspension systems in the Beetle and Jetta, its most widely sold car in the U.S., aren’t defective. The problem, he said, is that Chinese drivers don’t take their cars in for repair. In this case, that means car owners continue to drive with a faulty part until it breaks.
“The axle is safe,” the VW spokesman said. “We are calling the vehicles in for inspection in order to calm customers who may be unsettled by the events in China.”
In the wake of the Chinese safety investigation, VW inspected more than 40 cars that demonstrated problems with the trailing arm. In each instance the car had been involved in a rear-end collision and the driver had neglected to have the car repaired and the trailing arm broke.
“We are talking about a very severe rear-end collision after which a driver in Europe would take the car to the workshop, but in China they don’t,” the VW spokesman said.
—Rose Yu contributed to this article.