by Joshua Dowling
MORE than three million cars could have their registrations cancelled if owners refuse to get deadly Takata airbags replaced, under a radical proposal outlined by the car industry.
The drastic measure was floated in a closed meeting between automotive executives and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in Melbourne on Monday as the industry struggles to get customers to bring in cars for the critical recall work.
Some brands have only replaced the airbags in 20 per cent of affected vehicles. Honda is the exception, with 80 per cent of its cars fixed.
Car companies have already resorted to hiring private investigators to track down vehicles because customers have ignored recall notices in the mail.
Safety recalls are voluntary but the ACCC wants to make the Takata recall compulsory after faulty airbags - which can spray shrapnel when deployed in a crash - claimed one life in Sydney and seriously injured a driver in Darwin.
Overseas, 18 road deaths have been attributed to the faulty airbags, with more than 100 million cars now caught up in the world's biggest automotive safety recall.
The ACCC has no power to cancel vehicle registrations; that responsibility lies with the states.
But the consumer watchdog is considering submissions by car companies before making a recommendation to the Federal Government.
The ACCC is yet to announce whether it will propose a fine for carmakers or a penalty for motorists - or both - if the recall work is not done.
According to a high-ranking automotive executive, the car industry told the ACCC that vehicle registrations should be cancelled by state authorities "after exhausting all other efforts".
"If the airbags are not replaced, then the cars are deemed unsafe," the automotive executive said. "In that case they technically should not be roadworthy, not be driven on public roads, and not registered or transferred to another owner."
News Corp Australia contacted leading car brands that attended the meeting and none wanted to comment publicly, other than saying they were waiting for the outcome of the discussions and working with the ACCC to find a resolution.
However a statement from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries said the car industry would "support action by state and territory authorities in refusing re-registration to owners who are unresponsive or fail to comply. The same measure should also apply for transferral of ownership".
"The industry strongly supports urgent, proactive measures by state and territory registration authorities to assist (car manufacturers) in identifying those owners of affected vehicles who have been unresponsive or refuse to comply," said the FCAI.
The automotive industry body said the Takata recall is a "serious safety issue for all owners of affected vehicles" and that car companies have made "multiple attempts to contact some owners to advise them of the gravity of this issue and the need to comply with the recall."
There are several types of Takata airbags. The most dangerous type known as the "Alpha" airbag has a one-in-two chance of spraying shrapnel when deployed. Approximately 51,000 of the 150,000 "Alpha" airbags in Australia are yet to be replaced.
For other types of Takata airbags, the risk ranges from a one-in-50 chance to a one-in-1000 chance of improper deployment during a crash.
Of the 3.3 million cars on Australian roads equipped with faulty Takata airbags, about 950,000 have had new airbags fitted so far - leaving about 2.4 million outstanding.
However, close to 1 million vehicles may be added to the tally in the coming weeks, ahead of the ACCC's decision to make the recall compulsory, which would bring the tally of cars in need of repair back up to more than 3 million vehicles locally.