There are a number of ways to look at recall rates at different automakers. The most straightforward may be the number of recalled vehicles per 1,000 vehicles sold. In the U.S., the industry average is 1,115 recall vehicles per 1,000 vehicles sold. Among the Detroit Three, both Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (NYSE: FCAU) perform worse than that.
Recalls can outnumber vehicles sold because the same vehicle could have been recalled multiple times to fix different problems. Ford’s recall rate was 1,139 per 1,000 vehicles sold, ranking the company 12th of 18 makers. Chrysler’s recall rate was 1,422 per 1,000, ranked 17th. The maker with the worst recall rate is Volkswagen with 1,805 recalls per 1,000 vehicles sold.
The data were collected and analyzed by researchers at automotive data and research company iSeeCars.com. The researchers used National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) data from January 1985 to September 2016 to calculate recall rates and other metrics.
The carmaker with the lowest recall rate was Porsche with 531 vehicles recalled per 1,000 sold. Mercedes-Benz was second at 624 per 1,000 and Kia was third with 788 per 1,000. General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) ranked sixth with 958 recalled vehicles per 1,000 sold and it is worth noting that GM sold more than 129 million vehicles in the U.S. in the 31-year span of the study, more than 300 times the number of Porsches sold and more than 35 times the number of Mercedes-Benz cars sold.
Ford sold the second-highest number of vehicles, 111 million, and Chrysler sold the third-highest total, nearly 90 million.
iSeeCars researchers also looked at what the called “recall timeliness,” that is, how quickly and willingly an automaker identifies problems with the cars it sells, and “recall proactiveness,” defined as the extent to which recalls are initiated by the carmaker itself or by the NHTSA.
Another metric the researchers looked as was “recall severity,” the percentage of recalled cars with problems that could cause death, injury, crash, accident, or fire. The lower the percentage, the less severe the problem. The best score, 70.1%, was posted by Volvo, with Mercedes (75.1%), VW (77.6%), Chrysler (83.2%), and Subaru (84.5%) rounding out the top 5. Tesla Motors Co. (NYSE: TSLA) scored worst with 100%. The industry average was 88.1%.
The difference between recall rates and recall severity may be due to how a carmaker reacts to a problem with the vehicle. According to iSeeCars:
For example, while General Motors ranks 6th for recall rate, 90.1% of the cars recalled are for issues with possible dire outcomes. Conversely, Volkswagen has the worst recall rate but has a lower percentage of vehicles with severe ramifications at 77.6%. Volkswagen’s recall rate may be high because the company is more willing to issue a recall for a wider range of problems. Similarly, Volvo which has a reputation for safety, has a less than stellar recall rate. However 71% of Volvo’s cars are recalled for dire consequences — the lowest of any automaker.
Among the 18 carmakers included in the study, the average for manufacturer-initiated recalls (“recall proactiveness”) is 46.1%. Ford scores worst on this metric with 29.6% while Tesla scores 100%. GM scored 53.9% and Chrysler scored 37.5%. Of the 20 recall campaigns that each affected more than 1 million Ford vehicles, 18 were initiated by the NHTSA according to the iSeeCars study.