Research by the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association indicates that recalls affect more vehicles because of the parts standardisation which is a key element of the globalisation of the motor industry.

The numbers of recalled vehicles is up to record levels this year. MEMA attributes this in part to the standardisation of automotive parts across different car models.

"The percentage of vehicle recalls has increased from around 3% of vehicles in 1990 to more than 9% in 1999,'' says Frank Hampshire, MEMA director of research. "In many cases, large numbers of vehicles are involved in a single recall because carmakers use standardised parts on many vehicles sold around the world.''

Carmakers use standard parts across a wide range of vehicle models to simplify production and gain economies of scale. The use of parts across multiple platforms contributes to the rise in the number of recalled vehicles when a defective part is found, even if fewer parts are found to be defective.

"In 1995, for example, nearly 9 million seatbelt units from one supplier were recalled. They were used in cars produced by 11 separate auto manufacturers,'' Hampshire reports. Another case involving ignition modules used in 29 different vehicle models produced by one carmaker from 1983 to 1995, affected nearly 23 million vehicles.

Specific recalls may involve even more vehicles in the future, Hampshire warns.

"The movement toward global vehicle platforms may create the potential for larger recalls when a defective part is discovered,'' he says.