Even when one of the Honda Vezels caught fire, Uber executives simply hushed up the incident.
In January this year, Uber driver Koh Seng Tian had just dropped off a passenger when he smelled smoke in his Honda Vezel sport-utility vehicle.
Then, flames burst from his dashboard, melting the interior of the car and cracking a football-sized hole in his windshield.
Koh fortunately walked away unhurt.
But, the fire sparked panic at Uber.
The company had leased the Honda Vezel to Koh, via its car rental company Lion City Rental, knowing full well that there was a faulty part in the car that could overheat and catch fire.
In April 2016, Honda had recalled the Honda Vezel model due to that problem.
Uber managers in Singapore were aware of the Honda recall.
Still, they went and bought over 1000 more defective Honda Vezels from parallel importers and rented them to drivers here without making the needed repairs.
This was revealed by The Wall Street Journal after it reviewed internal Uber emails and documents and conducted interviews with people familiar with Uber’s operations in the region.
News of the fire rippled through Uber’s Singapore office after its insurance provider said it wouldn’t cover the damage because of the known recall, emails show.
Some of Uber’s managers urged taking the defective cars off the road, but Warren Tseng, Uber’s Singapore general manager, replied in an email that the plan would cost the company about S$1.4 million a week in driver wages, rental fees and parking costs.
Another Singapore manager, Chan Park, supported Tseng, emailing that leaving the defective Honda Vezels on the road “feels like low risk,” and: “The recall happened nine months ago.”
Hence Uber chose to leave the cars on the road and wait for replacement parts.
Meanwhile, it told Uber drivers to bring their cars to repair shops to disable the faulty part, despite Uber executives knowing that this was a stopgap measure not authorised by Honda.
Uber drivers Singapore say they were not told about the overheating dangers.
Uber’s Honda Vezel fleet, leased by its car rental firm Lion City Rental, were bought from parallel importers.
These small dealers operate in the grey market – a legal channel outside manufacturers’ authorized networks — where safety, service and legal contracts are difficult to enforce.
The Singapore team calculated it would be able to buy cars for 12% less than at authorized Honda dealers, according to the emails.
Uber said that, after the fire, the company notified the Land Transport Authority, which approved its plan to fix the cars.
In an internal report, Uber said the LTA failed to adequately maintain a list of recalled vehicles and check it against new cars coming in the country.
In the wake of the Honda Vezel fire, Uber began its repair process – 9 months after the Honda recall of defective Vezels.
In February, 65 percent of the defective Honda Vezels still hadn’t had their faulty parts replaced.
Still, Goh Aik Chung, an Uber associate general manager in Singapore, invited staff to a celebration to reward everyone who helped the company get through “the Vezel snafu.”
His email invitation, which called for dinner, a massage and “other shenanigans,” joked that transportation “might be in a Vezel.”
Uber says that all of its Honda Vezels have now been fixed.