Hyundai, NHTSA Hiding Truth About Recall from Public – PR Ethics?

As I do regularly, I peruse the news to find topics for The Crisis Show. Earlier this week, I caught a Reuters story about a just announced recall by Hyundai. Well, maybe not. You see, Reuters picked up on the recall but when I visited Hyundai’s website, there’s absolutely no mention of the recall. So I visited Hyundai on Facebook and on Twitter — and also, no mention. I looked again today, three days after the Reuters story, and it’s as if the recall did not exist. So I called Hyundai’s customer service line (August 1) and they told me that letters were being sent our “tomorrow” (August 2) to owners who are impacted by the recall.

But that’s only half the story. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is in charge of recalls of autos in the United States..but their website also has no mention. I called the media department of the NHTSA and asked them if they had a copy of the Hyundai recall announcement or a news release. No one returned my call or email.

The Reuters story said there’s a problem with airbags. Here’s an excerpt:

The curtain, or side air bag, in the Sonata sedan “may inflate without deployment command and increase the risk of injury to occupants of the vehicle,” NHTSA said. Also, an air bag deploying when there is no crash or other normal cause for it doing so can hinder the driver’s ability to control the vehicle, the agency said.

A Hyundai spokesman said there has been a single issue that the company is aware of when an air bag deployed and there was no crash.

Hyundai will replace the side air bags on the Sonata free of charge. The recall is to begin next month, the automaker told the NHTSA.

If the automaker did tell the NHTSA, doesn’t the government agency that is responsible for transportation safety have an obligation to alert the public right away?

As public relations professionals and social media managers, we have an ethical obligation to alert the public to a product or service that can cause serious injury or death.

Hyundai USA’s Twitter feed says it is operated by its “PR Gurus.” If you brag about how good you are at PR, then at least do your job, which is to inform the public about critical information that can save lives.

On Episode #7 of The Crisis Show last night, I gave Hyundai and the NHTSA an “F” in crisis management. So far, it’s well deserved.

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