ABC News Goes After BMW, Gets Response

October 27th, 2010

2010 BMW Z4 sDrive35i

Oh, how automakers must fear the wrath of network news.

First the Audi 5000 was targeted by CBS’s 60 Minutes in 1986, which used doctored footage to prove a case of unintended acceleration. The story had devastating effects on Audi sales for years, even though the problem was ultimately found to be caused by driver error. Then in 1992 Dateline NBC rigged gas tanks to explode on GM trucks, which ended up damaging NBC’s reputation more than GM’s.

Last year ABC News went after the Toyota “unintended acceleration” cases and broadcast footage using some shifty editing to make it appear that a parked car’s revving engine was actually the car an ABC News correspondent was driving. As in the Audi case, driver error is considered the culprit for the majority of incidents.

Now ABC News is at it again, broadcasting yesterday an expose on BMW engines. Is this one a real issue or another carefully orchestrated media attack against an automaker?

The issue is with the high-pressure fuel pump used in BMW’s twin-turbocharged N54 inline six-cylinder engine. The pump has a high rate of failure and can cause intermittent stalling, backfiring, and loss of power in certain 135335535X6, and Z4 models.

ABC News says the problem has been going on for years and lawsuits are stacking up from BMW owners who have experienced a sudden slow-down while driving. At the time the story was broadcast yesterday, BMW had not taken any official action to fix the problem, only replacing fuel pumps for owners who reported a problem. After the piece aired, though, BMW issued a full recall to address the problem on 2007-2010 335i models, 2008-2010 135i, 535i, and X6 xDrive35i models, as well as 2009-2010 Z4 Roadster sDrive35i models.

While the ABC News piece is a dramatic affair filled with dire warnings of death, destruction, and unsafe vehicles, BMW says no accidents have been attributed to the faltering fuel pump. A 2008 investigation by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration concluded that the pumps did not pose a threat to owner safety.

As is usually the case with modern media, ABC News completely blew this problem out of proportion, but, to its credit, didn’t fake any explosions and actually provided the kick in the butt BMW needed to fix the problem once and for all.

Do you trust media reports exposing safety problems in vehicles?

-tgriffith

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  1. randy
    | #1

    We’ve seen from the history of such reports that they’re more interested in “selling newspapers” than the truth. Generally there is some grain of truth but the media never worries about “pumping” things up to get compelling footage.

    In fairness to Audi and the many people hurt by the unintended acceleration problem, it was NOT caused by driver error. The root cause was determined to be unusual pedal sizing and placement. When the pedal design was changed, the incidents stopped. In other words, the poor pedal placement was causing the drivers to hit the wrong pedals.

    And to be fair to Dateline, the GM pickup trucks DID have a problem with the fuel tanks and the publicity helped give a reticent GM good reason to fix the problem. We’ve seen similar issues with the Pinto compact car and big ford police cruisers.

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