BMW apologizes for engine fires that sparked S. Korea probe

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German automaker BMW apologized Monday for a spate of engine fires in South Korea that angered consumers and sparked a government investigation into an alleged delay in recalling more than 100,000 cars.

More than 30 BMW cars – mostly the 520d sedan model – have caught fire this year in South Korea, forcing the firm to issue a recall last month to fix a faulty component that was aimed at reducing emissions from diesel engines.

“We offer our sincere apology with our heads down for causing concern and anxiety among customers, the public and the government due to recent fire accidents,” said Kim Hyo-joon, head of BMW’s Korea unit.

“We also offer a sincere apology … to customers who suffered the latest fire accidents,” he said at a press conference in Seoul before bowing his head deeply in front of TV cameras.

The comment came hours after Seoul’s transport ministry issued a “grave call” for the beleaguered carmaker to respond to the latest scandal in a “more responsible manner.”

The ministry also vowed last week to launch a state probe into the German titan’s response to the incidents, warning of “stern measures” if any problems were found.

BMW blamed a faulty component called the exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) cooler that generated excessive sediment and caused engines to catch fire, and said the problem was “not Korea specific.”

“A similar rate [of failure] was observed in other jurisdictions,” Johann Ebenbichler, vice president of BMW for quality, said without listing other countries where such accidents had been reported.

The carmaker had also used the same software and hardware for its vehicles sold in Europe, he said, adding that the firm had decided to undertake the “same campaigns” there as in South Korea.

The recall in the South, which applies to 42 models using diesel engines, is scheduled to begin on Aug. 20.

Images of BMW vehicles bursting into flames have made headlines in the South recently, with some parking lots refusing to accept the cars because of fears they would catch fire.

The firm is being sued by 17 BMW owners for damages said Ha Jong-seon, a lawyer representing them, adding that dozens of other owners were set to start legal action soon.

In South Korea, six out of 10 imported cars are from Germany.

BMW sold nearly 39,000 BMW, MINI and Rolls-Royce cars in the first six months of this year, according to the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association.