Speeches and Presentations

Remarks: Automotive Industry Action Group 2015 Quality Summit

Dr. Mark R. Rosekind , NHTSA Administrator

Tuesday, September 22, 2015 | Novi, Mich.

Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.
Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning, and thank you for the invitation to be with you today. Scot, thanks very much for that kind introduction.

I am pleased to be with you today because there is so much harmony between the work AIAG does and NHTSA’s mission of saving lives on our highways, and so many echoes from the time of the organization’s founding. AIAG was born in the early 1980s, an era in which the traditional powers of the auto industry were under increasing pressure from newcomers overseas. AIAG sought to learn the lessons that had helped those upstarts build high quality cars and apply them across the industry, helping lead a transformation in the way new entrants and traditional powers alike viewed manufacturing.

Today, the automotive world is on the cusp of an equally remarkable transformation, and again today it also must confront enormous challenges. This transformation promises an era in which safety efforts are no longer built on the grim assumption that there will be crashes, and helping people survive them as best we can. Now we can see the day when the primary safety features of a vehicle are designed to ensure that the crash, once a foregone conclusion, never happens at all.

At the same time, the last two years have made clear that despite the promise of this new era of safety innovation, and despite the fact that vehicles are safer overall today than they have ever been, the auto industry has significant safety challenges. Since the beginning of 2014, two of the world’s largest automakers have acknowledged criminal violations of the law – not only admitting to building and selling vehicles with safety defects, but to concealing those defects from NHTSA and the driving public. In May, a major supplier finally acknowledged, after months of delay, that it had provided nearly 34 million defective air bag inflators to 11 separate manufacturers, leading to what is likely the largest and most complicated consumer safety recall in our nation’s history. In July, another major automaker acknowledged violations of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act in multiple recalls. And while not directly related to safety, the revelation on Friday that another major manufacturer had sold nearly half a million vehicles with software designed to evade emissions standards can only further weaken public confidence in the industry’s concern for safety and health.

In reciting these facts, I am not indicting the entire industry. But they are facts. They are part of what Americans know about the companies they depend on to provide safe transportation. They are part of the landscape NHTSA faces as it monitors the 265 million vehicles on American roads. And they are realities that the talented, dedicated quality and safety professionals of the auto industry – all of you – must face.

So I am here today to seek your help. I am here to ask your assistance in driving a safety transformation that is about not just technology, but about mindset. A transformation built on the recognition that, just as the most survivable crash is a crash that never happens, the best-executed recall is the one that never takes place because the defect never made it out of the factory.

I am asking each of you, each of your companies, and this industry to embrace a proactive, forward-looking safety culture, to fully embrace the responsibility that comes from knowing that the highest-risk activity most Americans will undertake each day happens in your products. A proactive safety culture doesn’t avoid talk of problems. It certainly doesn’t conceal them. A proactive safety culture is one that seeks out problems, rewards those who identify them, and addresses them aggressively. A proactive safety culture infuses every part of an organization, from the R&D labs to the test track to the C-suite. A proactive safety culture means safety isn’t the responsibility of an office or a division – it is the responsibility of every single individual. A proactive safety culture means embracing the idea that customers will demand, should expect, and deserve zero safety defects.

I’m making this request here at AIAG’s Quality Summit because so many of the topics you will address are so closely associated with safety. Each of you is in position to help lead your companies to the proactive safety culture the industry should embrace. I have no doubt that many of you already are, and that many of your companies make safety an integral part of the business. But as the litany of facts I recited a few moments ago demonstrates, we cannot be confident that proactive safety culture is yet widespread throughout the industry. When a company resists a safety fix because it would cost just a few dollars per car, as apparently occurred with GM’s ignition switch, or when a company repeatedly denies a safety defect while its products are literally exploding in the faces of drivers, as Takata did for so long, it is clear that proactive safety culture has a ways to go.

And so for many of you, the task will be to continue modeling the proactive approach to safety that you and your companies have embraced. For others, the task may be to lead within your companies, to push your bosses, or those you supervise, or your entire company to make safety part of every job description.

Executing this transformation is especially important because of the other transformation that is well underway, the technological transformation. This industry – both established companies and newcomers to the business – have already developed remarkable advances that will help prevent deadly crashes. Automation – wherever it lands on NHTSA’s four-stage hierarchy – is literally a lifesaver. That is why, under Secretary Foxx’s direction, the Department of Transportation and NHTSA have made accelerating this transformation a top priority. That means, among other things, accelerating our work on vehicle-to-vehicle communications and reviewing our regulatory framework to identify and address any provisions that could slow this transformation. DOT firmly believes that connected, automated vehicles will save lives.

So we are indeed enthusiastic supporters of this transformation, as I know are many of the companies represented here. But we should all keep in mind that along with the great potential of these technologies, they also imply even greater responsibility for manufacturers.

The great safety potential for these advances lies in their ability to account for our human flaws behind the wheel. Impaired, distracted, drowsy, inattentive, too fast, too reckless – too often, 94 percent of the time in fact, fatal crashes can be attributed to a driver’s decision. The technologies now under development in Detroit, in Silicon Valley, and elsewhere can help account for those decisions. But in an automated vehicle, the responsibility for a vehicle’s safe operation doesn’t disappear. We are taking the wheel out of the driver’s hands, and putting it in the hands of software engineers, system engineers, scientists and designers and human-factors experts. If proactive safety culture is important to making the vehicles of today safer, it will be imperative in making sure the connected, automated vehicles of the fast-approaching new era meet their safety potential.

So this is the responsibility facing the auto industry. It is no small matter. At NHTSA, we have had our own experiences with the need for transformation. We know that acknowledging shortcomings is not an enjoyable experience, and that addressing them is hard work. We know that hard work and determination to excel do not make us any less human; they do not eliminate human error. And we know that organizational change takes time and commitment.

Because we understand these lessons, and because we know it’s the right thing to do for safety, NHTSA is interested in doing more than just policing the auto industry. Our recall and enforcement authority will always be a significant part of our safety efforts – anyone who questions our vigilance hasn’t been paying attention the last few months. But that is not the only tool available to us. We are willing and eager to work cooperatively with all players – OEMs, suppliers up and down the supply chain, industry consortiums, nonprofits, safety advocates, ad-hoc groups, whomever – to encourage transformation, both technological and philosophical.

NHTSA has worked with industry to encourage the creation of an Information Sharing and Analysis Center to confront the challenges of cybersecurity. We are working closely with partners in government and industry to speed deployment of V2V technology. We organized a daylong summit on improving recall completion rates that included presentations from General Motors on how the company is using marketing muscle designed to sell cars in the campaign to replace those defective ignition switches. We have held scores of meetings with OEMs and suppliers in exploring the coordinated remedy program to address the complex Takata recall. And, just this month, we worked with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to organize a group of 10 automakers who have agreed, without any government mandate, that automatic emergency braking should become a standard feature on their vehicles.

So if you or your company has ideas for how we can help encourage this transformation to a new safety era – the era of crash-avoidance and proactive safety culture – we want to hear from you. NHTSA will always be there if manufacturers fail to meet their safety responsibilities, but we would much rather work with you to help prevent those failures from ever occurring. That’s better for us, better for your companies, better for the Americans we all help to keep safe.

It is for those Americans that we should work, together, to end the era of the Big Recall. This is an important moment for the industry, one it can use as a launch pad to transformation. Despite the headlines, I am profoundly optimistic about the future we can create together. I know there are many people, in this audience and throughout this global industry, who recognize the need for proactive safety culture and are eager to help create and nurture it. I know groups like AIAG, its member companies and the volunteers who make it go, can play a key role in bringing about this transformation. Thank you for your time today and thank you even more for your efforts to protect the traveling public.