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BMW needs to pay

Aug 07,2018
Another BMW 520d model caught fire on the road on Friday, bringing the number of BMWs bursting into flames in Korea to 32 this year alone. The government has issued a warning to car owners to refrain from driving the potential moving bomb before the official recall starts on Aug. 20. The German car company is no stranger to recalls. A fire-prone model was also recalled in October 2016. At the time, BMW Korea blamed a component in the exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system.

If system malfunctions and recirculated gas emissions reenter the pipe without being cooled, it can melt a hole in the engine and cause a fire. If that is the problem, BMW cars with the same system may also catch on fire. But the mystery is that this phenomenon is only causing problems to cars in Korea. Others point to a software problem, but BMW remains mum.

Owners are not just fearful for their lives, but they have also suffered property losses. Ten owners have filed damage lawsuits against BMW Korea and five dealerships. BMW acts as if it has done enough by recalling 106,317 units of 42 models including the 520d.

The actions from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport are also vexing the owners. The ministry merely advises owners to not drive the problematic cars because it will take 10 months to find out the exact cause. The talk is overly casual when there is a risk of being killed in a flaming car.

BMW has submitted documents to help with the investigation. The ministry said it would embark on investigation with outside experts. But since the technological aspect relies entirely on the materials submitted by BMW, whether authorities can pin down the cause remains uncertain.

Even after the cause is determined and punishment is levied, consumers won’t likely be fully compensated under domestic regulations. Volkswagen AG paid $14.7 billion in fines and damages to U.S. authorities and consumers for the diesel emissions scandal in 2015. But Audi Volkswagen Korea was merely fined 14.1 billion won ($12.5 million). It is no wonder foreign carmakers take Korean consumers lightly. The government must revise the recall system. It must toughen punitive actions to make manufacturers pay a price for putting human lives at risk.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 6, Page 30