BMW catches heat for blaming Korea for fires

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BMW catches heat for blaming Korea for fires

A BMW spokesperson sparked outrage after blaming Korea’s traffic conditions and driving styles for the BMWs that keep bursting into flames.

BMW spokesperson Jochen Frey said during an interview with Xinhua, China’s state run news service, on Tuesday that “there can be many reasons for a fire to break out.”

The article said Frey “argued that the specific concentration of incidents in South Korea might be owing to local traffic conditions and driving styles,” although the sentence was not a direct quote.

The interview was spread by local media outlets on Thursday, causing an uproar among BMW owners and ordinary Koreans.

“[The comment] shows that BMW headquarters is trying to place responsibility for the fires on Korea and its BMW owners as part of an effort to conceal the vehicles’ defects,” said Ha Jong-sun, a lawyer at Barun Law, which is suing BMW Korea and five dealerships on behalf of around 40 BMW owners.

Ha criticized Frey’s comments at a press conference Thursday, saying they demonstrated the German carmaker’s “arrogance” toward Korean BMW owners. On Friday, Barun made a criminal complaint against Frey, BMW Chairman Harald Kruger and another executive at BMW Korea in charge of public relations, accusing them of deliberating concealing defects in their products.

BMW Korea responded to the controversy Friday saying that the Xinhua article was a mistranslation of an original interview conducted in German.

“There are several conditions for emission gas recirculation (EGR) systems to cause fires and [Frey] tried to explain them but was misinterpreted,” said a BMW Korea spokesman. “Among the factors were high cumulative mileage and driving for long hours at high speeds. They were translated wrongly as driving styles and traffic conditions.” BMW blames the fires on defects in the EGR, which reduces gas emissions by recirculating a portion of the gases into the manifold pipe.

Frey also explained in an interview with broadcaster MBC on Thursday night that he mentioned many other possible factors in the rash of fires, but “they [Xinhua] only took out one phrase.”

The company said it was “regrettable” that the article attributed the cause of the recent fires on Korea’s specific conditions and said it requested Xinhua to correct its story.

This year, 41 BMWs caught fire and many models are being recalled for replacement of the EGR. All models being recalled have been called in for immediate safety checks. The latest was on Thursday night, when a BMW that passed a safety check started smoking in an apartment parking lot in Seoul. The Transport Ministry said the smoke was caused by a defect in the EGR that was unchecked in the inspection. This is the second BMW to catch fire after a safety check.

Prices for secondhand BMWs fell 14.3 percent in less than two weeks, according to Hey Dealer, an app that compares used car prices.

The average price for a secondhand BMW 520d was 29.2 million won ($25,922) between July 23 and Aug. 4. After the government urged BMW owners to keep their cars off the road on Aug. 4, prices fell to an average of 25 million won between Aug. 5 and 15, slashing 14 percent from the average price from the previous two weeks.


BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]

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