For service facing and aftermarket automotive related supply chains, news developments this week have undoubtedly bordered on the surreal or even bizarre.

The ongoing product recall crisis involving airbag inflators’ producer by Takata took on even broader dimensions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicated this week that as many as 85 million potentially defective airbag inflators are still inside cars and trucks now being driven across the United States. That number is supposedly in addition to the nearly 29 million inflators that have already been designated for replacement in the ongoing massive product recall campaign.  Reports indicate that thus far, at least 11 people have died and over 400 have been injured by defective airbag inflators.

There are many facets compounding this overall logistical challenge. NHTSA itself indicates that because of inadequate reporting information from automotive producers, the agency does not exactly know how many vehicles are exposed to potentially defective airbag inflators that were produced by Takata. There are also multiple inflators installed in every vehicle. Add to this, that previous replaced inflators were not properly designed, causing a second recall.

As Supply Chain Matters has noted in our previous commentaries regarding this industry recall challenge, the problem of premature explosion of the inflators has been linked to long-term exposure to high humidity.  Thus the failure profile can be linked to specific U.S. states whose climate matches such humidity, such as Florida and the U.S. Gulf Coast states. One potential fix to the problem has been the addition of dessicant drying agent material to the inflator to lessen the moisture caused by high humidity.  That obviously implies a separate part identity.

The far broader problem is the sheer scope of the potential campaign. The government is not even sure it has the authority to mandate a recall of such volume and with such monetary implications. With a potential of over 100 million inflators having to be eventually replaced, the recall campaign would obviously exceed current capacity for producing replacement parts, implying multiple years of effort.  The sheer volume is of the magnitude of supporting the redesign of multiple new models of automobiles and trucks and would have to involve many more airbag inflator suppliers.  As Supply Chain Matters noted earlier week, suppliers such as Autoliv have already benefited from the crisis, and with such massive numbers, other suppliers will benefit as well. And then there is the biggest question of all, who will pay for all of the replacement parts and installation costs.

The Donald Trump analogy of: “This is a HUGE problem” is an appropriate descriptor.

This saga and its implications will obviously test the limits of automotive service supply chains and dealers for many months to come.

Then the industry has the diesel engine emissions crisis involving certain Volkswagen produced models. Since our prior commentaries in late 2015, we have refrained from other updates because of the sheer kaleidoscope of bizarre actions by Volkswagen.  First there was the sacking of senior corporate product design and quality executives.  Then came the sacking of the top U.S. executive Michael Horn, who was revered by U.S. dealers, after Horn supposedly proposed monetary gestures to affected vehicle owners.

While the global auto maker has initiated a product recall plan for affected vehicles in Europe, the deadline for a plan to address polluting vehicles in the U.S. has come and gone and remains somewhat a work-in-progress.  According to industry reports, VW continues to face upwards of $20 billion in potential fines as well as class-action lawsuits, not to mention a rather tense ongoing relationships with U.S. regulators and legislative bodies as well as its U.S. dealers.

Meanwhile VW senior executives had the shear nerve to position themselves for management bonuses. That had drawn the ire of executives of the IG Metall trade union who are influential members of the company’s Supervisory Board. The news this week is that executive bonuses have now been squashed by that board.  Details related to future actions that VW will take related to a recall plan for the U.S. are not expected until VW’s board of directors meets later this month to review various investigative reports related to the U.S. emissions scandal.

The VW service management supply chain remains with lots of pending challenges and unknowns. Thousands of in-service diesel-powered vehicles may be subject to costly vehicle hardware and software fixes that potentially will involve significant labor hours per vehicle. Unsold diesel-powered vehicles remain in dealer lots awaiting a disposition as well. If a vehicle recall is initiated, individual owners are likely to very intolerant to repair times that extend over many, many months. Then again, what-if VW elects to buy-back certain models? That’s a reverse supply chain challenge in the making.

Overall, automotive service management supply chains remain stressed and face unprecedented process and execution challenges in the coming months and years. There is obvious learning that will come from this ongoing multi-brand crisis, involving product-design, supplier quality and supplier management dimensions. Many consumers will be impacted and will get first-hand knowledge of the effects.

Bob Ferrari