Wednesday, 26 February 2014

When will Hyundai offer their customer a full report about the 2013 Sonata spontaneous fire? Will they ever make a public statement?

The scorched trunk of the 2013 Hyundai Sonata along with 
the intact engine compartment can reveal clues about how the fire started. 

Good quality public and media relations. I advise Hyundai to take the high road concerning spontaneous Sonata fires.

by Tom Thorne

Good quality public and media relations is a topic I know something about. In my work life I have done this kind of work for theatres, photo manufacturers, educational broadcasters and also taught courses at the college level on both topics. I have had my share of public and media relations problems to deal with.

One aspect of public and media relations I subscribe to is always tell the truth and admit your failures and problems and own up to them. Of course other managers do not always appreciate this type of high minded public and media relations and will tell you when you propose such a plan that to tell the truth or admit anything may make the company liable for legal suits and also lose business. 

Usually managerial embarrassment and doses of disbelief and denial are at the root of poor public and media relations responses. Shame combined with denial can be lethal. However if your products or services don’t make the grade or fail miserably then owning up remains the best and ultimately the only policy if you want to remain in business with credibility.

When some years ago Maple Leaf Foods had Listeria food poisoning in their already distributed products they told the truth and said exactly what they intended to do about the problem. They protected the public, accepted responsibility for the deaths involved and gained our respect. Very tough to do. A pithy Reuters story relating this Maple Leaf experience can be read at:

Many readers probably remember the Tylenol poisoning murders. People died who used these spiked vials of Tylenol. The outcome was one of the most daring public and media relations operations in American business history. Good quality public and media relations worked so well that the trade name Tylenol survived this terrible experience and is used as a trusted brand to this day.

This problem properly managed is a classic case of good public and media relations work in action and the way it was handled pioneered safety packaging that is used by the over the counter and prescription drug industry to this day. See more detail on this at: 

So that brings me to my current set of stories about the Hyundai Sonata spontaneous fires and other incidents Hyundai and other car manufacturers have had. Readers can find these stories below in recent posts.

I keep asking the question what does Hyundai normally do when one of their cars ignites spontaneously?  Their answer to date is that they take the problem seriously and will deal only with the customer with the problem. I have suggested to them in this blog that they may wish to retrieve the car in question and analyze what happened to it since the fire gutted the interior and the engine compartment remained intact. When they know how this all happened they should publicize this information with their remedy.

I have information that Hyundai did visit the burned out car stored at a Belleville, Ontario wrecker but the car is still there. Apparently it has been visited by the insurance company, Hyundai and “some engineers” according to my source. Of course it has been visited by the driver and myself to photograph the remains. As of 16 February 2013 the car has been seen by Hyundai but not purchased for any information it may yield if it was examined further at a forensic Hyundai research laboratory.  

My research into car computer systems reveals that many new cars of the road today have up to 50 CPUs (central processing units) built into them and one main box with a computer to control these sub systems. Mechanics can analyze a car’s need for maintenance or a malfunctioning part by plugging into these systems for a read out. Dealers have this level of analytical systems at their service centres.

Knowing this my question based on good public and media relations principles is to ask first has Hyundai done this to the compromised vehicle that rests in a Belleville wrecking yard? Do they take the car to a forensic lab for analysis and read out from its systems that seemingly malfunctioned? No direct answer to these questions has been forthcoming to this point of time.

All we get is that Hyundai in this case is “concerned” and after my first articles told me by email they intend to do more analysis of the car with the results of their tests would be communicated to the customer at some point. If that happens I will then see those results so they may as well tell me the results at the same time.

Here is the email trail I got after I contacted Hyundai on 31 January 2014. My contact is Chad Heard:

From Tom Thorne:
I am covering recent Hyundai fires on my blog  The two stories I have done concern Hyundai cars that have ignited spontaneously for no apparent reason. My question to Hyundai is what do you do with the cars after this happens? Do you buy them back and take them to a lab for analysis? I understand a car setting on fire after a collision but the two examples and the others I have found are not collisions. Therefore I ask what is the Hyundai procedure after such an event especially when it is a failure due to Hyundai’s current engineering, sourcing or manufacturing practices. 

My other question is how are customers who experience one of these fires usually compensated by Hyundai when the insurance companies seem to cover only the book value of the car at the time of the problem. Customers obviously experience other losses, money paid out by monthly payments for example until the date of the fire. In short, do you have a policy to cover this kind of problem and what is it?

Tom Thorne

Here is the reply from Hyundai’s Chad Heard on 31 January 2014:

Tom, Thanks for the e-mail and the questions. As with all feedback that is received, the company works with customers on an individual basis. Please find attached a statement the company has prepared for your blog.
Chad Heard
Public Relations Manager
Hyundai Auto Canada Corp.

Attached to the first email I got from Chad Heard is this statement:

Hyundai Auto Canada appreciates the opportunity to respond. The company certainly understands how an experience as described in your article can be one of great concern to customers. This is a serious matter and Hyundai Auto Canada is committed to a full and proper investigation of the vehicle and will communicate directly with the customer as information becomes available.  - Hyundai Auto Canada Corp.

I can understand the customer getting a report but that does not solve the problem for the car buying public. And what exactly comprises “a full and proper investigation of the vehicle” if it remains at the wrecker subjected to the Canadian winter? Surely the wreck should be taken to a warm garage for a deep analysis of its computer systems? 

Hyundai has public responsibilities as well as their relationship with a customer.  They have this public responsibility as well as customer responsibility because they sell cars to the public with claiming only good things for their vehicles. They need to show in a tangible public way how “serious” they are concerning these spontaneous fires.

When their cars spontaneously ignite they should be warning people with them and potential new customers. They need a reengineering and a subsequent recall once they discern what happens in these spontaneous fires. Will they do this? Will they publicly admit that they have a problem?

What is very interesting is the recent Hyundai $400 million US class action settlement for erroneous gas milage claims that Hyundai is currently paying out to their customers. Gas milage problems pale in comparison to the spontaneous fires reported here. What processes does Hyundai management enact when their cars experience these fires? Their statement that they deal one on one with their affected customers and public admission of their “concern” does little to really enact a public and media relations program that can ease the concern of those driving their cars or more importantly, thinking of buying one.

© Copyright 2014, Tom Thorne, All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

More on the 2013 Hyundai Sonata fire. The burnt out car offers an intact engine for serious analysis of the car's computer.

The engine of the burnt out 2013 Hyundai Sonata is intact. 
An opportunity for some real analysis about how and why the fire occurred.

What Hyundai should do about their spontaneous car fires.

by Tom Thorne

I received the following email from Hyundai Auto Canada Corp. after I asked them what they normally do after a spontaneous fire breaks out in one of their cars:

“Hyundai Auto Canada appreciates the opportunity to respond. The company certainly understands how an experience as described in your article can be one of great concern to customers. This is a serious matter and Hyundai Auto Canada is committed to a full and proper investigation of the vehicle and will communicate directly with the customer as information becomes available”.  Hyundai Auto Canada Corp.

I still ask one main question to account for about 32 percent of car fires that are spontaneous.  What  precisely do the manufacturers of these cars do with the burnt out hulks? Do they take them to their laboratory to try to find out why these fires occur for no apparent reason? We now know that in the case of the fire I reported on 25 January 2014 that Hyundai had the car examined on 28 January 2014 and the report of that work is now pending.

It remains to be seen if this report done by Hyundai offers any explanation or guide to what happened. When a car ignites after a collision that is something that we can understand. Although even that kind of fire should be made less likely by engineering and thinking through better car design that defeats fires under any circumstance. 

When the fire starts for no apparent reason while the car is simply parked, warming up or driving, then that is simply a reason that needs intense research about the systems that run contemporary cars. In the comments at the end of the this story I have such a case. This is especially needed in low milage new cars that fail this badly. If a car is old, then a fault of this kind could perhaps happen due to aging components and wear and tear.

These new car fires also suggests wiring and its connections to onboard computers needs a rethink. This Hyundai Sonata car enables that work to be done because the engine compartment did not burn as the photograph with this story show clearly. Check this reference about the complexity of contemporary car microprocessors:

The software and hardware it controls runs the systems in a contemporary car is much more complicated than ever before. It it fails then the systems shut down. If the systems shut down then windows and doors fail and cannot be opened which is the case in this fire for the back passenger doors. Despite an intact and unburned engine, control of the car failed completely.

And why are cars finished with plastics and fabrics that burn easily when exposed to overheated wires? And why are those wires close to anything that can ignite? Why can’t fire retardant plastics and fabrics be better developed? Why does the software when it closes down, allow systems to continue working and malfunction to the point that wires or electrical connections can be allowed to overheat?

1,743,112 Cars  and light vehicles were sold in Canada in 2013 an increase of four percent over 2012. Hyundai’s share of this market was 137,100 units and increase of .6 percent over 2012. They sell cars in almost the same volumes as Toyota and Honda, and enjoy almost half the sales of Chrysler, General Motors and Ford. 
If you add Hyundai’s other car company Kia with sales of 72,449 units in 2013 together they control almost 13 percent of the Canadian light motor vehicle market. These figures are from Derosiers automotive reports and they show Hyundai-Kia to be a significant player in the Canadian car business.

Both Hyundai and Kia have lost a tiny bit of Canadian market share from 2012 into 2013. Hyundai is down .2 percent and Kia .4 percent. Sales for the entire car industry has grown four percent from 2012 into 2013. However Suh Sung-moon an analyst at Korea Investments and Securities is quoted in the Financial Times observed “Hyundai is keen to prevent the quality issues from expanding further because the impact on sales will be much larger, if similar problems are found in its new models”

So a significant player in Canadian car sales needs to show that when they have a problem of spontaneous fires they have policies and procedures that transparently demonstrate to the car buying public that they are working to fix these problems. In short they cannot keep these cases quiet and how they respond is a test of just how “keen” they really are to make things right.

Hyundai-Kia has just settled a class action suit over false claims for their gas milage. The total North American settlement is $400 million of which the Canadian share of this settlement is $46.65 million Cdn. This problem pales against teen one of these spontaneous fires.

To shore up their reputation because of recalls and quality issues Hyundai Motors has lost three executives in its research and development division including its head manager Kwon Moon-sik after their embarrassing fuel efficiency debacle. Whose head will roll over this kind of shabby engineering, sourcing and manufacture associated with spontaneous fires?

So many companies try the silence routines or the nice word public relations but without any tangible substance probably fearing litigation. Public relations is not silence it is publicly owning up to your problems and fixing them in public. If you choose to offer products to the public then you must do what is right when you have problems such as these spontaneous fires.

The truth is you will get litigation no matter what you do so it can only be bearer to own up to faults and deal with them publicly. The litigation and class action suits side of these problems can be lessoned by good public and media relations. A settlement with silence by both parties means that if the car company that makes the settlement  is obviously at fault.

There is a strong argument for a newer type of public relations and media relations by companies. That style is not silence but admission that there was and remains a problem which Hyundai intends to solve, fix and make good not only for this car but for all the cars they sell now and in the future. That is their test in the case of these spontaneous fires.

The fire gutted interior of the 2013 Hyundai Sonata with the intact engine.
Surely the intact car computer can shed light on this problem?

© Copyright 2014, Tom Thorne, All rights waved.  Please credit