Third-party probe | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

Third-party probe

/ 02:14 AM December 28, 2015

The highly charged issue concerning the “unintended sudden acceleration” allegedly plaguing the Montero Sport model of Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corp. (MMPC) may soon be resolved rationally, thanks to the decision of the Department of Trade and Industry last Dec. 17 that an independent, third-party investigation be conducted.

Earlier, the complainants insisted that their vehicles accelerated on their own (that is, without any human intervention, such as the driver stepping on the gas pedal) while MMPC stood pat on its own findings that the vehicles involved remained safe to use. The manufacturer insisted that the units in question were tested in the course of the inquiry into reports of unintended sudden acceleration, and that the results showed that the units were safe to use. This resulted in a publicity war that eventually drew the attention of members of the House of Representatives.

Imagine those lawmakers calling for a stop to the production and sale of the vehicle model involved and the recall of all sold units without the benefit of competent investigation and factual basis. If that were the norm, then rice would have been banned a long time ago as a result of reports of alleged poisoning due to “fake rice” in Mindanao. Some members of the House committee on trade and industry even went as far as to suggest the adoption of a motion to recommend a stop to the purchase of the vehicles in question and to call on the DTI to order the pullout of the model in the market until the issue of unintended sudden acceleration had been resolved.

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The DTI had actually conducted an investigation, which started on Dec. 2, involving vehicle tests in coordination with the Department of Science and Technology and in consultation with a resource person. But after two weeks, the cause of the unintended sudden acceleration has yet to be established. There was even a joke that circulated on social media regarding a statement attributed to the DTI “expert” claiming that frequent car washing could cause engine electronic trouble. (It was later clarified that what was referred to was the engine wash.)

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The latest DTI order is being lauded as it seeks to protect both consumers and the automotive manufacturer. For instance, the DTI directed all Montero automatic transmission vehicles owned by the complainants to undergo mandatory preventive maintenance, with MMPC issuing certificates of quality reassurance before releasing the vehicles. MMPC was also directed to conduct free vehicle checkups for all owners of the vehicle model, as well as proper education and training prior to the sale of the model to buyers.

As expected, MMPC welcomed the DTI recommendation to hire an independent third-party expert to perform all relevant tests and investigation on the units involved. The Japanese company, together with the DTI investigation panel and the DOST, will come out within 30 days with the terms and conditions for the conduct of the investigation by the third-party expert.

A puzzling aspect to this controversy that the third-party investigation should hopefully address is the question on why the complaints of unexplained sudden acceleration were concentrated here. MMPC started selling the vehicle model in the Philippines in 2008. The model, which is produced in Thailand, is being sold in many countries. MMPC noted that except for five isolated cases in Australia and New Zealand, there has been no such incident elsewhere except in the Philippines. In terms of the same vehicle specifications, the model being sold in the Philippines is also being distributed in other Asean countries, but there were no other incidents reported elsewhere.

A third-party inquiry is the most logical step whenever two arguing parties refuse to budge. Knowing that it lacks the technical expertise, the DTI should have decided on a third-party probe by an expert at the outset. This should hopefully teach it a lesson in dealing with future disputes involving areas or aspects beyond its know-how.

For the present case, an exhaustive investigation by an independent third party is very important considering that there were more than 90 reported cases of unintended sudden acceleration, and documented cases indicated that some of these had caused the death of six people.

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TAGS: Department of Trade and Industry, Unintended sudden acceleration

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