SINGAPORE - American ride-hailing giant Uber has said that it has fixed all 1,000 Honda Vezel cars affected by a flaw that could make them more prone to catching fire.
Its spokesman Leigh Wong was responding to a Wall Street Journal report which said that Uber was aware that the cars were defective when it bought more than 1,000 defective Honda vehicles and leased them to drivers. The Journal said at least one car burst into flames in January.
Mr Wong told The Straits Times on Friday (Aug 4): "We can confirm that all affected Vezels have been fixed."
Private-hire drivers are like taxi-drivers, but they do not have to abide by many regulations governing cabbies.
Honda had initiated the Vezel recall in April 2016 when it discovered an inadequate electrical capacitor in the car's stop-start mechanism. The mechanism switches off the engine when the car is waiting at traffic lights or kept stationary to save fuel, and restarts it when the driver steps on the accelerator.
The Straits Times understands that a large proportion of Uber's Honda Vezel fleet came from Sunrita, a parallel importer the ride-hailing firm is embroiled in a legal tussle with over late delivery of cars.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Uber's senior management came to know of the flaw and recommended that the vehicles be taken back from drivers to avoid "unnecessary risk". But its Singapore general manager Warren Tseng said in an email that the plan would cost the company about S$1.4 million in driver wages, rental fees and parking costs.
When asked to elaborate, Uber's Mr Wong said: "We acknowledge we could have done more - and we have done so."
He said that the company worked with the Land Transport Authority and technical experts to fix the problem when a Honda Vezel from the Lion City Rental fleet caught fire.
He added that Uber has introduced robust protocols and hired three dedicated experts in-house at Lion City Rental to ensure that the company is "fully responsive to safety recalls".
"Since the beginning of the year, we've proactively responded to six vehicle recalls and will continue to do so to protect the safety of everyone who uses Uber."
Mr Wong would not say what the six other recalls were, but directed The Straits Times to a Land Transport Authority web page, which listed 27 recalls in the past six months.
Honda's authorised agent Kah Motor said this is why it imports only models which are deemed export-ready by Honda.
While its cars are also fitted with the stop-start feature, its flaw had been fixed before the vehicles left for Singapore. Hence they are not part of the recall campaign.
In Singapore, car dealers are allowed to carry on selling a model even though it is being recalled as long as the retailer takes steps to fix the flaw in a timely fashion.
Some parallel importers of the Vezel - the most popular unauthorised car here - have advised owners to deactivate the stop-start function while waiting for replacements for the defective part. That was what Uber recommended its drivers do.
In January this year (2017), an Uber Vezel burst into flames. According to the Wall Street Journal, the driver escaped injury.
The LTA is checking on the matter and was unable to verify the number of affected cars that have been fixed.