BMW owners seek criminal probe into automaker

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BMW owners seek criminal probe into automaker

A group of BMW owners will file a complaint with police this week seeking a criminal investigation into top officials at the local unit of the German carmaker over a recent series of fires in vehicles, a law firm representing the plaintiffs said Wednesday.

Barun Law said it plans to lodge a complaint on behalf of 20 BMW owners with Seoul Jungbu Police Station on Thursday.

The complaint will be made against Johann Ebenbichler, BMW’s vice president on quality management, Kim Hyo-joon, chief of the Korean unit, and four other officials and entities, in relation to alleged violation of the Automobile Management Act, the law firm said.

The local unit of the German carmaker is under scrutiny after the engines of some 27 vehicles caught fire between January and July this year, prompting a government probe amid growing criticism from consumers who blame the company for a belated response.

The complaint follows two separate filings of compensation suits lodged by two different consumer groups on July 30 and last Friday.

On Tuesday, BMW Korea apologized for the defects and for causing public concern in a press conference and pledged to recall 106,000 diesel vehicles, including the highest-selling model here, the 520d, starting later this month. It also vowed to cooperate with the forthcoming probe by the Transport Ministry.

Violation of the Automobile Management Act in Korea is punishable by a prison term of up to 10 years or a fine of up to 100 million won ($89,400).

Meanwhile, the Korean government is moving to complete an investigation into the cause of fires in BMW vehicles within this year, while considering adopting punitive damages against carmakers that fail to meet safety requirements, the Transport Ministry said Wednesday.

During her visit to the state-run Korea Transportation Safety Authority, Kim Hyun-mee, minister of land, infrastructure and transport, called on automotive engineers and experts to finish a probe into the cause of the recent fires by December.

She also said the government is giving serious consideration to introducing the punitive, or exemplary, damages system, which it expects will keep automakers from delaying recalls.

The minister’s remarks come after BMW held an “urgent” press conference in Seoul on Monday to say the cause of fires in the engine rooms of its vehicles is “only a hardware issue.”

Vice President Johann Ebenbichler in charge of quality at BMW Group cited the leakage of an exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) cooler as the main cause of the fire incidents that happened in BMW cars in Asia’s fourth-biggest economy this year.

He stressed the German carmaker used the same software and hardware for its vehicles sold in Europe and Korea. But the executive didn’t explain why EGR-related fires are concentrated in Korea this year.

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