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Before I read any new news on Uber I get this track ready for background music:

Smoke, Then Fire: Uber Knowingly Leased Unsafe Cars to Drivers

Uber driver Koh Seng Tian had just dropped off a passenger in a residential neighborhood in Singapore when he smelled smoke in his Honda Vezel sport-utility vehicle. Flames burst from the dashboard, melting the interior and cracking a football-sized hole in his windshield.

Mr. Koh walked away unhurt, according to the accident report filed with authorities. But the fire this January caused panic at Uber Technologies Inc.

The ride-hailing company had rented the Vezel to Mr. Koh after Honda Motor Co. recalled the model in April 2016 for an electrical component that could overheat and catch fire.

Uber managers in Singapore were aware of the Honda recall when they bought more than 1,000 defective Vezels and rented them to Mr. Koh and other drivers without the needed repairs, according to internal Uber emails and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and interviews with people familiar with Uber's operations in the region.

Three days after the fire, executives at Uber's San Francisco headquarters were briefed on a response plan, according to the emails and former Uber managers in Asia: The company would deactivate the faulty devices and leave the cars on the road while waiting for replacement parts. The plan called for seeking approval from Singapore authorities and advice from auto-repair experts.

Vehicle Car Automotive mirror Motor vehicle Automotive design

An Uber driver this week in the Honda Vezel he rents in Singapore. Uber says it has fixed all recalled Vezels.

In the wake of the Vezel fire, Singapore managers sought to add new safety measures, Uber said. After the fire, "we took swift action to fix the problem, in close coordination with Singapore's Land Transport Authority as well as technical experts," said an Uber spokesman. "But we acknowledge we could have done more-and we have done so."

The emails don't indicate whether San Francisco executives knew about the Vezel safety recall before Mr. Koh's car caught fire.

Mr. Koh, 61, declined to comment.

'Hush-hush affair'
Alexander Yudhistira, a 31-year-old driver who had rented a defective Vezel from Uber since April 2016, said the company didn't make clear to him why it needed urgent servicing. "The recall was done in a hush-hush affair," said Mr. Yudhistira, who is no longer an Uber driver. "Drivers weren't told about the real issue behind the Vezel."

Honda, in emails to Uber reviewed by the Journal, said it wasn't liable for the gray-market vehicles and declined to help Uber with the repairs or acknowledge whether disabling the part improved safety. Uber in emails acknowledged Honda didn't have a legal duty to do repairs.

A Honda spokesman, asked about the cars Uber bought from Sunrita, said that "In Singapore, with parallel imported cars, the importer must handle the recall," referring to gray-market dealers. He said he couldn't comment on steps Uber took to disable the faulty part because he wasn't aware of the technical details.

Uber's repair process, beginning in January, continued at least several months, according to internal progress reports.

Seeking to limit negative publicity, Uber's communications team in Singapore prepared an information packet including the recall's details and responses to media questions. "The recall was announced in April 2016. Why is LCR only aware/taking action now?" was one question. Uber intended to blame the delay on the importers who didn't provide replacement parts, a review of the packet shows.

Renting out cars with known safety defects became illegal in the U.S. in 2015. U.S. companies aren't bound by American auto-safety laws in other countries.

The Uber spokesman 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. The LTA didn't respond to requests for comment.

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