A motorist was cruising in his new Peugeot 307 car when the steering column suddenly locked. He lost control and crashed into the median. The car was a write-off. Two of the passengers came out unscathed. One sustained serious injury.
When the motorist narrated his encounter to his colleagues in the office, a man who was using the same model told him he had a similar experience, and that Peugeot 307 was notorious for locking the steering at top speed.
Ironically none of the motorists bothered to confront the dealers or the manufacturers over such catastrophic defect. With a relatively low volume of new vehicle imports, car manufacturers pay little or no attention to consumer protection in Nigeria.
Three years ago, Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC), recalled millions of Camry cars following complaints of occasional uncontrolled acceleration which resulted in a number of fatalities.
No car was recalled from Nigerian roads during that significant phenomenon. The reasons are numerous. It stretches from consumer apathy to the dealers’ and manufacturers’ propensity for making profit at the expense of safety.
The Nigerian consumer is pathologically apathetic. He hardly complains. Many mistake the apparent docility for resilience.
The dealer on the other hand is dubious. There are fears that some dealers might have collected replacement for the defective parts complained about in the recalled brands and sold them at handsome fees to complaining motorists.
Peugeot Automobile, manufacturers of the 307 model might have recalled the model to fix the defective steering column if it was inundated with complaints from the high end of the market. Besides, there are chances that the defect cropped up in a stripped down model meant for the Nigerian market.
The apathy of the Nigerian consumer could as well be traced to an expensive litigation process and a cumbersome and corrupt judicial system. In some developed countries, lawyers handle litigation emanating from accidents caused by vehicle design flaws in a pocket-friendly manner. They serve as links between the consumer and the manufacturer and channel the consumers’ complaints to the manufacturers in such a way that they not only seek compensation for the consumer for the loss sustained, but keep the manufacturer aware of debilitating design flaws in their products. Where a manufacturer tries to ignore defective components complaints from consumers, a flurry of law suits would compel it to fix the problem at a higher cost.
Nigerian consumers lack that protection because lawyers charge fees that discourage them from pursuing restitution with manufacturers when accidents are caused by defective components.
General Motors of the United State has filed for bankruptcy protection due to litigations emanating from defective components in some of its brands. The Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion are prone to switching off the ignition when the car is on motion. Where that happens, the power steering fails along with the air pressure breaks. The airbags cannot deploy on impact. At least 13 deaths have been recorded from that defect which the company has known for more than a decade now. It has finally recalled that series following litigations that might result in bankruptcy. Ironically some of the cars recalled by GM might have slipped into Nigeria’s used car market. No dealer would listen to their owners because they were not purchased here as new ones.
Last week, Toyota Nigeria Limited (TNL), the leading dealer in Toyota products in the country gave consumers what sounded like a pleasant surprise. The company announced what would amount to the first recall of vehicles on Nigerian roads.
Under the scheme, the 2004/2005 model of Toyota Hilux Pick-ups, 2005/2006 models of RAV4 and 2006-2008 Yaris are to be recalled for replacement of malfunctioning spiral cables.
It sounds good. But the gesture is too little, too late. TNL has attached some strangulating strings to the gesture offered freely by the manufacturers, TMC.
The announcement heralding the recall suggests that only vehicles supplied by TNL’s accredited dealers would benefit from the replacement of the faulty components. What happens to those who bought their vehicles from dealers not accredited by TNL? Some of the models for recall have been on the roads for eight years. That implies that most of the used vehicles imported into Nigeria are affected by the defect. If they were still in Europe or America they would have been recalled for replacement of the defective components.
Unfortunately, TNL would not listen to their new owners in Nigeria because the vehicles were not obtained from “authorized dealers”.
The lay man’s understanding of a recall is that it has no dealers strings attached. Wherever one obtains a genuine product of TMC, the consumer is entitled to the benefit of a recall.
I had an Apple i-pad which developed a fault within the warranty periodWhen I travelled to the U.S., I took it to an obscure electronic shop in Lynn, Massachusetts. I was asked to trade in the defective one for a new set. Why would TNL restrict the recall to vehicles supplied by its accredited dealers? That amounts to robbing consumers of the manufacturer’s gesture.