Still no clue how to stop BMWs from bursting into flames

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Still no clue how to stop BMWs from bursting into flames

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BMW Korea Chairman Kim Hyo-joon bows in apology on Monday at an emergency briefing at the National Assembly by members of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Committee from the ruling Democratic Party and officials from the Transport Ministry. [YONHAP]

BMW cars continue to burn in Korea, and neither the carmaker nor the government has a clear idea of how to resolve the ongoing crisis.

On Saturday, a 120d model burst into flames in Incheon and the following day, a 2015 BMW 520d model ignited on a highway in Hanam, Gyeonggi. Both models were included on a recall list drawn up by BMW Korea.

On Monday, a BMW M3 gasoline model not on the recall list caught fire on a highway in Namyangju, Gyeonggi.

They bring the total of BMW fires in Korea this year to 39.

Members of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Committee from the ruling Democratic Party held an emergency meeting Monday, attended by officials from the Transport Ministry and BMW Korea Chairman Kim Hyo-joon. Chairman Kim apologized and the lawmakers pledged to revamp regulations on recall procedures, all of which had been promised before.

“Democratic Party lawmakers from the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Committee agreed that policies on punitive damages and recall processes have to be strengthened and regulations to support hefty fines [on manufacturers] have to be improved,” said Yoon Kwan-seok, a lawmaker from the Democratic Party who is a member of the committee, to reporters after the closed-door meeting.

“Regarding the aftermath measures, the government and the lawmakers will work together to improve the regulations,” Yoon added.

The Transport Ministry said Monday that it will run a series of tests with the help of external experts to see if software was a factor into the fires.

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. Industry experts have been raising other possibilities.

One speculation is that a piece of software called the electronic control unit has been manipulated to decrease the amount of emitted gas to meet the tightened standards on diesel engine emissions after the so-called Volkswagen dieselgate scandal broke out in 2015.

“There is a possibility that a fire broke out, even if an EGR is fine, because the software had been manipulated to reduce the amount of emitted gas,” said Kim Pil-soo, an automotive engineering professor at Daelim University in Gyeonggi. “It is hard to believe that so many fire cases broke out only in Korea if the hardware was the only problem,” he added.

The Transport Ministry said it will collect multiple samples, including inspected and non-inspected cars as well as models that are not being recalled to test the possibilities.

Meanwhile, the first police investigation in a class action suit took place on Monday evening.

Lee Kwang-duk, a BMW owner and one of the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against BMW Korea, was questioned Monday evening. The plaintiffs claim that BMW Korea covered up the causes of fires on purpose for years.

“I will ask the police to secure emails that BMW Korea exchanged with its German headquarters and the manufacturers of the EGRs,” Lee said before attending the session. Lee is the owner of a 2014 BMW 520d model that caught fire last month after a friend of his drove the car for one hour and parked it in front of a building in Seongnam, Gyeonggi.

As of Sunday, 67.9 percent of the 106,000 recalled cars had received safety checkups.

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

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