In the last 12 months, SRS examined the prevalence of electronic recalls, reviewing 722 recall campaigns since July 2010 to determine how many involve defects associated with electronic systems. Ultimately, defining electronics recalls is challenging – they range from severed cables and fluid leaks into electronic components that result in short circuits to hardware failures to complex software algorithm issues. When defined broadly, electronics recalls comprised more than a quarter of recalls submitted to NHTSA over the last year. Of those, 24 recall campaigns address software defects.
As SRS has previously reported, automakers have known for at least a decade that electronics have their advantages – and their reliability headaches. At a 2004 industry conference, Mercedes Benz’s vice president for electrical and electronics and chassis development. Steven Wolfsreid, “railed against the temptation to overload vehicles with electronic functions that are useless to the customer,” according to an Automotive News story. The German automaker had removed 600 electronic functions from its vehicles because of quality concerns that were damaging its reputation and ticking off its customers. Electronics are challenging to integrate into a vehicle’s electrical architecture, he said, and what works well in isolation can be a disaster in combination with other electronic components.