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2 more BMWs catch fire, bringing total to 36 for the year

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Aug 10,2018
Two more diesel vehicles, a 730Ld model, left, and a 320d, right, caught fire on Korean highways on Thursday. The former is not included on a recall list announced by BMW Korea last month. [YONHAP]
Two more BMW diesel cars caught fire Thursday morning, less than an hour apart, as Korea’s Transport Ministry mulls banning the fire-prone BMW vehicles from Korean roads.

This makes 36 cases of BMWs bursting into flames in Korea this year, eight in the last nine days.

As some of the vehicles that caught fire in recent weeks are not even included in BMW’s official recall list, industry analysts are raising new doubts about the company’s description of the cause of the fires.

On Thursday, a 730Ld model caught fire on the Namhae Expressway in South Gyeongsang.

The fire was extinguished within 15 minutes, according to the local fire station.

The 730Ld model was a 2011 model. On the official recall list announced by BMW Korea last month, only models from 2012 to 2015 were included, not the 730Lds.

This means that the owner of the car that caught fire would not have qualified for a safety check even if he had tried to get one.

Not so long after the first fire, a BMW 320d model - the second most popular type in Korea after the 5-Series - caught fire on a highway in Anyang, Gyeonggi.

The driver pulled the car into a rest area after spotting smoke coming from under the hood.

It was a 2014 model, which is included on the official recall list.

BMW Korea insists that faulty exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) modules are to blame for the fires. The EGR reduces gas emissions by recirculating a portion of the gases into the manifold pipe and is only used on BMW's diesel engines.

Some of the latest fires, however, broke out on gasoline models. Five gasoline cars - including the 528i, 428i, 740i, 745i and a Mini Cooper - caught fire and BMW Korea said they are different from the EGR-caused fires.

Minister of Transport Kim Hyun-mee said Wednesday the ministry is considering ordering a suspended operation of BMWs that are subject to recall but haven’t received a safety check by Aug. 14.

The ministry launched a separate probe of the fires after concluding it couldn’t rely on BMW Korea.

Under Article 37 of the Automobile Management Act, a city mayor, a provincial governor or the head of a district office can order a car thought to be unsafe off the roads for safety inspections.

The Transport Ministry said it will ask municipal governments to cooperate with the ministry.

Of the 106,000 cars subject to recalls, only about 40 percent have received safety inspections.

A group of BMW owners filed a criminal complaint against BMW Korea Chairman Kim Hyo-joon, Johann Ebenbichler, vice president of BMW’s corporate quality team and other executives on Thursday at Namdaemun Police Station claiming that the German carmaker tried to conceal the defects for the past two years.

Ebenbichler, who gave a presentation on EGR defects to the Korean media on Tuesday, said the German headquarters had been aware of the EGR defect since 2016 but didn’t connect it to the latest fires until June.

BY JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]


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