ELKHART — One of the RV industry’s largest manufacturers has threatened legal action against RV Daily Report following an opinion piece in November about product recalls and their impact on the RV industry.
In an editorial published Nov. 25, RV Daily Report Editor Greg Gerber noted that the RV industry had issued 148 recalls in 2016 through Nov. 21. He indicated that recalls suggested a problem with product quality. The original article can be accessed by clicking here.
Michael Terrell, an attorney with the Taft, Stettinius and Hollister law firm in Indianapolis, sent an email to Gerber late Monday, stating:
“I am outside legal counsel for Forest River, Inc. and am writing to address Forest River’s concerns regarding the misleading and defamatory nature of your recent article titled “Opinion: RV recalls tell story of product quality” published on rvdailyreport.com on November 25, 2016.
First, your article is grossly misleading because it fails to mention that many recalls are not attributable to the end-stage manufacturer as opposed to a parts supplier. As you may know, Forest River builds its RVs on chassis from other manufacturers and uses parts and equipment from a number of suppliers.
In the event a defect is discovered with respect to the chassis or a specific part, both the supplier and Forest River are required to issue a recall. Because you do not make this distinction in your article, the statistics you report overstate the number of recalls that are attributable to Forest River and the other end-stage RV manufacturers you list.
Second, you state: “Let’s not forget that recalls occur only because problems were reported that could cause safety concerns.” This statement is false. Pursuant to federal law, a recall can be issued for two separate reasons. The first is the existence of a defect that poses an unreasonable risk to safety. The second is when a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment does not comply with a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (“FMVSS”).
As you should be well aware, a noncompliance with a FMVSS often times does not equate to a “problem . . . that could cause safety concerns” to the motor vehicle’s driver and/or passengers. Your incorrect statement misleads readers to believe that Forest River had 40 “problems” that pose an unreasonable risk to safety — which is simply not true.
Next, you state: “So, do recalls accurately reflect the serious problem the RV industry has with product quality? I would argue that yes it does.” This statement makes an erroneous connection between the number of recalls issued and vehicle quality. As stated above, manufacturers are required to issue recalls for any noncompliance with a FMVSS.
Some of the issues you label as “silly things” that are “easily correctable” would fall into this noncompliance category of recalls. While those “silly things” do not have anything to do with a risk to safety or vehicle quality, they still result in a recall. Additionally, you fail to understand that recalls are typically self-reported by manufacturers to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) and that it is an internal determination within the company whether to issue a recall.
Forest River, in particular, has its own internal process for investigating and issuing potential recalls and errs on the side of issuing a recall in order to ensure consumer safety and vehicle quality. Accordingly, your correlation between the number of recalls and vehicle quality is unfounded and baseless.
More importantly, by erroneously equating the number of recalls with vehicle quality, you are actually encouraging manufacturers not to recall its products. This is exactly the opposite type of behavior NHTSA is attempting to promote among all RV manufacturers.
In sum, the uninformed and misleading nature of your article is clearly a smear campaign against end-stage manufacturers (and Forest River in particular) and has the potential to mislead the general public about Forest River’s — as well as other RV manufacturers’ — dedication to manufacturing high quality and safe products.
You need to immediately correct the many misstatements made in your November 25, 2016 article. Otherwise, Forest River will look at all of its available options, including legal action, to protect its business reputation as one of the leading builders of high-quality RVs.
Needless to say, Forest River regards this as ‘an extremely serious matter and expects a prompt response. Please contact me with any questions.”
Gerber, who is out of the country until Dec. 20, promised to look into Forest River’s allegations upon his return.
He indicated RV Daily Report will also publish a list in early January of every recall made by every RV manufacturer over the past three or more years listing the exact reason for the recall, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s statement as to what would happen if the issue was not corrected, and what the companies indicated would be done to correct the issues that led to the recall.
Recalls are a hot-button issue for Forest River. Not only has the company issued more recalls than any other RV manufacturer in the industry this year, the company was fined $35 million in 2015 for failing to issue timely safety defect recalls required by the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, as well as failing to report critical data, such as technical service bulletins and early warning report data.
People can read the consent order between Forest River and NHTSA.
“Yes, I’d agree that some of the recalls issued by RV manufacturers were to correct simple problems, such as labeling issues that may not have posed a direct and immediate safety hazard, and the editorial was wrong to suggest that,” Gerber said. “We will correct the record in a story Jan. 2 showing how many recalls were directly related to those concerns and how many were directly related to product issues.”
He noted that RV Daily Report will not be publishing any newsletters the next two weeks, and that he does not have access to the recall data in the Caribbean.
“It is also true that manufacturers work with contracted suppliers to issue product recalls when there are safety issues with chassis and other components and that occasionally both firms share responsibility for the recall,” Gerber explained. “But, the RV manufacturer is ultimately responsible because the manufacturer selects the suppliers and the products they install on the recreation vehicles they build.
“Are recalls a reflection of product quality? That may be something a jury will have to decide,” he added. “But, in the original story, we listed nearly two dozen examples of very serious problems. It will be interesting to see if a jury finds those items a reflection of product quality or not.”
Gerber said that list of problems was a sampling from all recalls issued this year, and are not in any way to be construed to be evidence of only Forest River’s recalls.
The full list to be published Jan. 2 will allow readers to see for themselves what was recalled and whether it correlates with product quality or a government-mandated safety standard.