The deadly Takata airbag recall is nearly complete in Australia but the fallout continues to dog the national car industry.
Luxury car brand Mercedes-Benz is now squarely in the sights of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) after an alleged failure to comply with delivering strict warnings about the seriousness of the issue.
The ACCC is taking the German prestige car maker to the Federal Court, alleging that on 73 occasions between July 2018 and March 2020, in communications with consumers Mercedes staff said it was "OK" to drive vehicles that were six years ago and subject to the recall.
The ACCC also says Mercedes staff told consumers there "had been no incidents, accidents, injuries or deaths caused by Beta airbags, either in Mercedes-Benz vehicles, or at all".
Mercedes-Benz Australia intends to vigorously defend its position, saying owners had been sent at least six written letters, including one registered letter, "using high-impact language in the form approved by the ACCC under the recall notice, together with emails and SMS messages where those contact details are held, which emphasise the importance and urgency of the recall".
"To date, the affected airbags have been replaced in 97.7 percent of the Mercedes-Benz vehicles involved in the recall," the company said.
The Takata airbag recall is the largest in automotive history.
In Australia, one Sydney man driving a Honda was killed and a Darwin woman driving a Toyota RAV4 suffered a severe, lifelong disability as a result of their Takata airbags deploying incorrectly. There have been numerous deaths and injuries recorded overseas.
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said the compulsory recall of the airbags affected 3 million vehicles in Australia and that it was vital consumers were made aware in all communications about the risks of serious injury or death.
"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 says consumers were told "the reason we're in this recall is more of a precautionary measure and an ease of mind for our customers" or "you are still OK to drive your vehicle up until the point of completion of this recall, and that's due to the fact that the Beta [airbag] hasn't shown any faults" or "we've not actually had any problems ... but we are recalling them for customer peace of mind, anyway".
In April this year, Access Canberra began the process to refuse registration of those ACT-registered vehicles which failed to comply with the recall order.
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