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U.S. saw record number of car recall campaigns in 2021, but fewer vehicles affected

The U.S. saw a record number of light-vehicle recall campaigns in 2021, but a smaller number of vehicles were affected, according to data from investment bank and advisory firm Stout.

Individual recall campaigns reached a record high of 406 in 2021 compared with 317 in 2020, while the total number of vehicles affected dropped to 21.6 million from 28.9 million over the same period, Stout’s data showed.

Two campaigns in 2021 each affected more than 1 million vehicles: a Ford recall of 2.6 million older-model vehicles for potentially defective airbags and a Mercedes-Benz recall of 1.3 million newer vehicles up to 5 years old for a software error.

Stout’s data excludes certain Takata airbag recalls and General Motors’ ignition switch recalls.

“Having only two recalls over a million units is a significant decline compared to 2019 and 2020 where we have six such campaigns,” Anson Smuts, a manager in the disputes, compliance and investigations group at Stout, said Tuesday during the Society of Automotive Analysts’ virtual Automotive Recalls Summit.

On the low end, there were 11 single-vehicle recalls in 2021 — “a new record,” Smuts noted.

Last year also saw the largest percentage of recall campaigns that affected fewer than 100,000 vehicles — reversing a trend from prior years that showed a growing percentage of campaigns of more than 100,000 vehicles.

“This may relate to an improvement in the ability to detect recall-worthy defects earlier on and an improved traceability of those vehicles, thereby reducing the number of vehicles manufactured with those defects,” Smuts explained.

There was also a slight decrease in recalls of vehicles at least 8 years old, declining to 25 recall campaigns compared with 27 in 2020. Airbags were the most represented components in this population for both 2020 and 2021, Smuts said.

So far in the first quarter of 2022, there have been 89 recall campaigns affecting 8.9 million vehicles and putting the U.S. on pace to reach about 36 million vehicles for the year, according to Stout’s analysis.


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