Vauxhall Zafira fires Contents


Vehicle fires

1.Vehicle fires can be terrifying for vehicle occupants and other road users and have caused serious injury and death. Thankfully the number of such fires has declined steadily over the last 15 years and in 2015–16 there were just under 21,000 attended vehicle fires in England, of which just over 13,000 were fires in cars.

Figure 1: Attendance at vehicle fires, England, 2009–2016

Source: Fire Monitor Statistics

2.Thomas Berenz, Director of Global Safety and Field Investigations, GM Motors, said that estimates of vehicles fires in the UK varied but that most were the result of “criminal intent”.1 This was the case six or seven years ago but since around 2011/12 the number of accidental fires has exceeded the number of deliberate fires. The number of accidental fires has remained essentially flat since 2012/13. Since 2009/10 the number of deliberate fires has more than halved, although the number increased significantly in 2015/16 (up 15% on the previous year). Of the 13,183 attended car fires in England in 2015/16, 7,393 were accidental and 5,791 were started deliberately.2 19 people lost their lives in these fires (ten of them in fires that were started deliberately) and 290 were injured (260 of whom were injured in fires that started by accident).3

Figure 2: Attended Vehicle fires by cause, England, 2009–2016

Source: Fire Monitor Statistics

3.In 2015 Vauxhall’s Zafira B model became a cause for concern when a distinctive pattern of fires was identified. The Zafira, a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) popular with families, has been in production since 1999. The first generation (known as Zafira A) was sold until 2005, when it was replaced by the second generation model (known as Zafira B); the third generation is the Zafira Tourer C. The Model B Zafira was no longer on the market by the time Vauxhall became aware of the distinctive pattern of car fires.4 Vauxhall sold 234,938 Model B Zafiras with manual or no air conditioning between 2005 and 2014.

4.Owners of Zafiras affected by fires started a Facebook group in October 2015 and the issue was covered by the BBC’s Watchdog programme on 22 October 2015.5 At about the same time the Zafira Owners’ Club raised concerns about vehicle fires with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). The London Fire Brigade (LFB) raised concerns about the number of fires it was called to attend affecting Vauxhall Zafiras.6 In November 2015 it said that since 2013 firefighters had been called to 120 fires involving Zafiras, more than double the number in the preceding four years (2009–2012).7

5.The Zafira fires were serious enough to destroy an entire vehicle and cause damage to other property and buildings in the vicinity.8 We received an account of one fire from an owner whose Zafira caught fire at his home.9 We are not aware of any serious injuries or fatalities as a result of Zafira fires but we are aware of reports that the fires can cause the electrics in the car to fail, locking in drivers and passengers.10 Charles J Klein, Engineering Executive Director Global CO2 Strategy and Energy Center (formerly Vice President of Vehicle Engineering in Europe), General Motors acknowledged that Vauxhall had been fortunate that no one had been seriously injured.11

6.Vauxhall took action to address the problem, although initially this fell short of action notifiable under the voluntary Code of Practice. The DVSA asked Vauxhall to upgrade its action to a safety recall and Vauxhall later had to issue a second recall when further investigation revealed a second mode of failure. We set out the timeline of events in more detail in the next chapter of our report.

Vehicle recalls

7.The DVSA is the competent authority for automotive safety issues in the UK. Within the DVSA, the Vehicle Safety Branch (VSB) is responsible for all matters relating to vehicle safety defects and recalls. The VSB’s annual budget was £272,000 in 2014/15 and £280,000 in 2015/16, which is about 1% of the operating surplus retained by the DVSA in 2015/16. This budget covers the administration of the vehicle safety recall scheme and safety defect investigations. The VSB is administered by a team of seven but sits within the DVSA’s enforcement arm, which has around 1,000 staff.12 The DVSA handled 333 recalls last year involving around 1.7 million cars.13 In the last ten years around 1.1 million vehicles had been recalled because of issues that could lead to a vehicle fire.14

8.Any product that is believed to be dangerous can be recalled under provisions in the General Product Safety Regulations 2005.15 The Regulations provide for the development of codes of practice and encourage voluntary actions by producers and/or distributors. Motor manufacturers carry out recalls under a Code of Practice agreed by the Department for Transport and trade associations representing the motor manufacturing industry.16 The DVSA has produced a Manufacturers’ Guide to Recalls in the UK Automotive Sector, which aims to describe a best practice process to help manufacturers conducting a safety recall.17

9.Under the Code manufacturers are responsible for informing the DVSA of any defect requiring remedial action where the defect is liable to cause significant risk or injury to the driver of a vehicle, its occupants or other road users. The Code places the onus for investigating and deciding on the appropriate remedial action on the manufacturer.18 It emphasises co-operation between the DVSA and the manufacturer; for instance, the DVSA and the manufacturer decide together on the nature of the investigation, with close contact between the two and regular reviews during the investigation. The DVSA can and does offer views and make recommendations on measures proposed by manufacturers. It can challenge manufacturer decisions on the handling of a safety defect.19 The DVSA can also tell manufacturers about issues that are brought to its attention (through, for example, an intelligence and market surveillance programme, other national safety recalls, producer websites and press coverage, or defect reports it receives directly from members of the public).20

The Committee’s involvement

10.The Chair of the Committee wrote to Vauxhall and the DVSA on 7 December 2015; we received responses from both later the same month. In May 2016 Vauxhall and the DVSA provided us with updates. We have received a number of updates from Vauxhall and the DVSA, which we have published on our inquiry page. Two people submitted written evidence and we wrote to and received replies from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the Sociaty of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT). We are grateful to all those who have assisted us with our inquiry.

11.On 19 July 2016 the Committee heard evidence from Peter Hope, Customer Experience Director, Vauxhall and Charles J Klein, Engineering Executive Director Global CO2 Strategy and Energy Center (formerly Vice President of Vehicle Engineering in Europe), General Motors and Gareth Llewellyn, Chief Executive, Peter Hearn, (Acting) Operations Director, and Andy King, Head of Customer and Business Operations, DVSA. The Committee also met some of the people campaigning to raise awareness of fires affecting Vauxhall Zafiras. On 31 August 2016 Vauxhall provided additional information we had requested during the session in July and in November it provided a further update.21 In February 2017 we took further evidence on Vauxhall vehicle fires; we heard from Elvira Toelkes, Vice-President, GM Quality Europe, Thomas Berenz, Director, Global Safety and Field Investigations, and Helen Foord, Head of Government Relations and Public Policy, General Motors; and Gareth Llewellyn, Chief Executive, Peter Hearn, Director of Operations, and Andy King, Head of Enforcement, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency.

1 Q36

4 Oral evidence taken on 19 July 2016, HC318, Q23 [Peter Hope]

6Brigade stats help in recall of 220,000 Zafiras”, London Fire Brigade press release, 19 November 2015

7Vauxhall Zafiras recalled again as Brigade attends 120 fires in last four years”, London Fire Brigade press release, 19 May 2016

9 Michael Figge (VVF001)

11 Oral evidence taken on 19 July 2016, HC318, Q20

12 Qq140–1 [Gareth Llewellyn]

13 Q112 [Gareth Llewellyn]

14 Q113 [Gareth Llewellyn]

15 The 2001/95/EC General Product Safety Directive came into force in January 2004 and was transposed into UK law in the General Product Safety Regulations 2005

19 DVSA, Code of Practice on Vehicle Safety Defects and Recalls, November 2013, paragraph 5.1

25 April 2017