A Business Technology Place

The Takata Airbag Recall Letter

In my next two blog posts, I’m taking a couple of businesses that I buy from to task. I received a letter in the mail from each business that did not properly describe what I should do as a consumer of the product/service. The letters are good case studies for marketing communication groups about syncing the instructions, or call-to-action, of a message with the operations of the business.

This week is about a letter I received from the American Honda Motor Company. I will preface my Honda letter experience by saying that I’ve purchased multiple Honda vehicles in my lifetime. I am a repeat customer for Honda with no plans to change.

In March of this year I received a letter about the Takata airbag recall. The letter has many strong points:

  • “Important Safety Recall” is in an enlarged point size that is all caps and red. – That caught my attention. I wanted to read the details.
  • “What to do if feel this notice is in error” – This was good because I may no longer own the vehicle. They were sending this to the address of record for the vehicle VIN. They enclosed an update form and envelope in case their records were wrong.
  • Information is included in the document about how to contact Honda if I have further questions or feel the resolution is inadequate.

But the letter has a flaw.

In bold letters it states “The defect in these vehicles could kill or injure you or other people in your vehicle”. When I read about the fatalities caused by this part defect I understood just how serious this issue is.  

Directly following is the instruction of what to do. It essentially says that I will be contacted with another letter when parts become available. I highlighted this statement and set it aside on my desk so that I wouldn’t forget about it. A few weeks later my daughter received the same letter for the Honda vehicle that she drives. The instructions were the same.

Click for full size letter

Click for full size letter

Fast forward to early August. My daughter is getting ready to go back to college. I wanted to make sure this part replacement was completed prior to her departure so I decided to call a local dealer. What surprised me is the answer I received was “that part just went on back order but I can order you a new one and it will be here in a couple of days.” I called an Acura dealer about the other vehicle I own and received the same answer. I made appointments for both vehicles and had the recall part replaced.

What if I hadn’t called?

As I think about the problem, I understand there is a huge supply and demand situation to replace the airbags. The Takata airbag recall affects more than Hondas. I know the supplying plants are trying to keep up with demand for new vehicles while at the same time trying to make replacement parts for older vehicles. If Honda had told me to contact the dealer right-away it would have created chaos and a backlog of requests.

When I read the history of events about this recall in the updates of that blog, I can see that auto makers are scrambling to cover their affected vehicles. Perhaps a better way to set expectations would be to have a schedule of availability based on production capacity, year/model/make, and location (high humidity zip codes first). Then provide the affected consumer with an estimated availability date. That approach may not have sat well with consumers in the back of the line, but it would have provided a better estimated time of replacement. The message of the existing letter is both open ended and for me didn’t accurately communicate when the parts were available.

I spoke with a couple of friends who received a similar letter from a different manufacturer and they had the same experience. In fact, both of them were still waiting on the letters, months later, to confirm availability of the part. As it stands right now, you may want to call your local dealer if your vehicle is part of the recall.

Onward and Upward!