Mercedes-Benz put customers at risk of death or serious injury by playing down the risk of deadly Takata airbags, the ACCC has alleged.
The consumer watchdog is taking Mercedes to court over its handling of the Takata issue, arguing the luxury brand failed to meet requirements set out in Australia’s largest safety recalls.
The ACCC alleges that Mercedes-Benz failed to comply with the compulsory recall notice by “minimising the risks associated with defective Takata airbags and failing to use attention-capturing, high-impact language to avoid consumers ignoring recall notices”.
In a written statement, the car maker refuted the claim and said its official written correspondence used “high-impact language” approved by the government.
The ACCC says Mercedes call centre staff also misled customers by playing down the risk posed by Takata airbag inflators.
The February 2018 Takata recall, the first compulsory recall in Australian automotive history, addressed about 4 million potentially faulty airbag inflators in about 3 million cars. I
Faulty components in the airbag have been linked to deaths and injuries of motorists in Australia and overseas.
The mandatory recalls included deadlines for work to be completed and rules for how car makers should communicate with customers.
The ACCC alleges that Mercedes staff used language “inconsistent with the requirements of the compulsory recall notice”.
The ACCC alleges that “on at least 73 occasions, Mercedes-Benz call centre staff made representations to consumers by phone or email to the effect that they were undertaking the recall as a precaution”. Customers were also told it was safe to drive vehicles affected by the issue.
Mercedes said its vehicles “do not contain Takata ‘Alpha’ airbags identified as critical by the ACCC, and the recall process overseen by the ACCC did not require affected Mercedes-Benz vehicles to be off the road or owners to cease driving them until the repair was undertaken”.
“As the Recall Notice did not require Mercedes-Benz owners to cease driving their vehicles, Mercedes-Benz Australia does not understand how saying an owner could continue to drive their vehicle could be a breach of the Recall Notice,” the manufacturer said.
ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said “it was a very important part of the compulsory recall that consumers were made aware in all communications from vehicle manufacturers of the risks of serious injury or death from defective Takata airbags, and the importance of having these airbags replaced as soon as possible”.
“We allege that Mercedes-Benz exposed consumers to the risks of serious injury or death because it used language which minimised these risks, and gave the impression that the recall was precautionary and that there was no urgency in having the airbags replaced,” she said.
The ACCC alleges Mercedes-Benz staff told customers the recall was “more of a precautionary measure” than a matter of life and death.
The government body accused Mercedes in February 2020 of “potentially putting lives of drivers and passengers at risk” by failing to initiate recalls of some cars with Takata airbags.
Mercedes said it “co-operated with the ACCC throughout its investigation and has taken steps to improve its internal systems and call centre operations”.