BMW noticed mysterious fires erupting in the engines of its cars in Europe as early as 2016, the carmaker admitted Monday, fueling more criticism that it failed to address the issue sooner. BMW called a press conference on Monday at the Westin Chosun in downtown Seoul to apologize to Korean consumers.
The carmaker said it received a report in 2016 about small holes forming in an intake manifold in a part of the engine and set up a task force to deal with the matter which recently concluded tests.
But Peter Nefischer, the head of engine development for BMW, claimed the automaker discovered the fundamental cause of the fires only in June this year.
"The cause is only a hardware issue. It has nothing to do with software. And the root cause is not Korea-specific. Similar rates are observed in other jurisdictions," said BMW Korea vice president Johann Ebenbichler.
But in fact around 20 BMWs caught fire in Korea in the second half of 2015 and 2016, and BMW already started fitting diesel engines with different exhaust gas recirculation modules in 2017, suggesting that the automaker noticed the problem much earlier.
BMW Korea CEO Kim Hyo-joon bowed before reporters and said, "I bow my head and apologize for causing distress to our customers, the Korean public and government."
In a press briefing the same day, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport told reporters, "There were similar fires in Europe since 2016 and BMW has been conducting tests to look for the cause."
The ministry said safety tests conducted by BMW showed around 10 percent of the cars that were tested had problems. That means at least 10,000 of the 106,000 BMWs subject to the recall could be at risk of spontaneous combustion.
One BMW 520d that had been given a clean bill of health in a safety inspection caught fire in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province last week, but BMW blamed it on "human error" and said an inspection staffer failed to detect defects.
The Korea Consumer Agency said it will gather litigants to file a class-action lawsuit against BMW.
BMW Korea chairman Kim Hyo-joon bows in apology at a press conference in Seoul on Monday.