The Vauxhall Zafira was first recalled in 2015
Parliament's Transport Select Committee described Vauxhall’s failure not to warn customers sooner as “morally reprehensible”.
The British car manufacturer was also deemed too slow to take action over the fires, which came to prominence in 2015, and was also too quick to blame garages for improper and unauthorised repair, said the report. It also alleged that no efforts were made to trace the poor repairs.
Vauxhall said there were “lessons to learned” from the Zafira fires.
Vauxhall sold more than 230,000 Zafira models with manual or no air conditioning between 2005 and 2014. The first report of a Zafira fire was noted by the car maker in 2009, Five years later, in 2014, concern was raised within Vauxhall that these fires had a distinctive pattern, but it wasn’t until August 2015 that Vauxhall started to investigate. At that time, 161 fires were logged.
Vauxhall’s first recall over the issue came in December 2015. In February 2016, it was made aware of the first fire in a recalled vehicle, but did not launch its second recall until May 2016.
The report heavily criticised Vauxhall in letting people continue to drive vehicles that had been recalled and returned to owners when it knew that the Zafiras could still catch fire, saying: "Vauxhall's decision to continue to let people drive affected cars amounts to a reckless disregard for safety. This is particularly damning given its admission that it should have notified customers earlier".
The report continued: "In the absence of any explanation for its tardy response from the witnesses that appeared before us we can only conclude that commercial considerations and the need to avoid reputational damage were put ahead of safety; this is unacceptable and morally reprehensible."
The debacle has also flagged the need for better processes across the industry to address the failings in the UK’s car recalls system.
The inquiry said that the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) relied too heavily on manufacturers to report safety concerns and should instead encourage drivers and other areas of the industry, such as garages and insurers, to flag issues.
The Committee also advised that the DVSA should have more power to seize vehicles for fire investigations from unwilling manufacturers as well as being able to threaten prosecution if parties fail to comply with recalls.
Chair of the Transport Select Committee, Louise Ellman MP, said: "Vehicle fires are terrifying for their occupants and other road users. In this inquiry, we heard how one car manufacturer was too slow to acknowledge drivers’ concerns, too slow to begin an investigation, too slow to address the causes and too slow to alert drivers of real safety concerns. Drivers and their families were needlessly put at risk."
She added: “All car manufacturers should take heed of the recommendations in this report. The current voluntary approach to recalls is not robust enough. The DVSA must be given enforcement powers to compel manufacturers to act should it need to do so. This will ensure that drivers can have full confidence in the recall system.”
Vauxhall said: "We apologise to anyone who has experienced anguish or distress as a result of this incident. Nothing is more important to us than safety. We go to enormous lengths to maintain the safety of our vehicles and we have strengthened these processes further as a result of the learnings from Zafira B."
It said it has made improvements to the way it investigates cases of vehicle fires and strengthened its recall process to ensure vehicle safety and to minimise customer inconvenience.
"While we recognise that undertaking two recalls was inconvenient for Zafira B customers, we maintain that the first recall was necessary based on our investigations and we were compelled to act with urgency based on the information available, notwithstanding the fact that further investigations were ongoing. As soon as we had identified the issue, we made it clear to customers in the recall letters how they should operate the heating and ventilation system to keep them safe," the car maker said.
Vauxhall stated that it had "made very good progress with the second recall, which provides a final fix to the problem". It also confirmed that 183,172 vehicles have had the second recall carried out and that it is "working closely with DVSA" to complete the process.