A coding error has led Subaru to recall and dispose of 293 of its Ascent 2019 SUVs. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report reveals that the error caused robots building the cars to miss two critical welds in the car's fabrication.
The welds were located on the car's B-pillars which hold the hinges to the second-row doors. The missing welds reduce the overall strength of the car’s body and could result in passengers suffering injury in a crash.
No fix available on post-production vehicles
There is no way to fix the error post production so all the cars needed to be destroyed rather than refurbished. Subaru said only nine of the affected cars were actually in the hands of consumers and that all affected customers would receive a replacement vehicle.
"All potentially affected vehicles will be inspected by an SIA factory representative, and if the vehicle is missing any spot welds, the vehicle will be replaced with a new one. There is no physical remedy available; therefore, any vehicles found with missing welds will be destroyed," a document a submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration read.
Software errors rare in modern carmakers
The defected cars were located between July 13 and July 21, although not all cars produced in this car were affected by the flaw. The company launched an investigation in production procedure after an audit discovered a single example of the mistake in July.
According to Stout’s 2018 report of Warranty and Recall almost 8 million vehicles were recalled in 2017 because of a software or integrated circuit issue. This year other major car makers like Ford and Tesla have also experienced costly recalls due to errors.
As we head into the robot revolution, automakers need to take a warning from Subaru and ensure development practices are strict without any exceptions on release quality. Although it isn’t common to hear of coding mistakes causing production problems it isn’t totally unheard of.
In the 1980’s when GM began a major push to automate its car assembly lines to stand a chance against its Japanese competitors the new robots in the paint shop turned on each other rather than the cars in front of them.
GM didn’t get off with just the one instance, robots responsible for fitting windscreens reportedly liked to smash them up instead and in a case similar to Subaru, the spot welding robots began welding doors shut rather than their hinges.
Even Tesla CEO Elon Musk admits that having robots isn’t always the best solution. In an interview earlier this year he admitted that sometimes the robots slow down production rather than make it quicker.