US to impose recall of 52 million airbag inflators capable of exploding and flying shrapnel
DETROIT (AP) — The U.S. government is taking a big step to force a rebel company in Tennessee to recall 52 million airbag inflators that could explode, fly shrapnel and injure or kill people.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Tuesday it had made an initial determination that inflators made by ARC Automotive Inc., and licensed by another company, were defective. The agency has scheduled a public hearing for Oct. 5, a mandatory step before deciding whether to seek a court-ordered recall.
In May, the agency asked the CRA to recall the inflators, which it says have been responsible for at least seven injuries and two deaths in the United States and Canada since 2009. But the CRA refused to issue a full-scale recall, setting the stage for a potential court battle.
Messages were left on Tuesday seeking comment from the CRA. The company maintains that there are no safety flaws, that NHTSA’s request is based on assumption rather than technical findings, and that the agency has no authority to order a parts manufacturer detached from announcing recalls.
“These airbag inflators may rupture when the vehicle’s airbag is commanded to deploy, causing metal debris to be forcefully ejected into the vehicle cabin,” NHTSA wrote in an initial ruling document. “A ruptured airbag inflator poses an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death to vehicle occupants. »
NHTSA wants ARC to recall driver and passenger front airbag inflators from at least a dozen automakers. Neither the CRA nor the auto industry has released a report full list of vehicle models with the kind of airbag inflators that exploded. But at least 25 million of the 284 million vehicles on US roads are believed to contain it.
Owners of vehicles made by at least a dozen auto brands — Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Ford, Toyota, Stellantis, Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Hyundai and Kia — anxiously wonder if their vehicles contain driver inflators or the front passenger. produced by ARC.
Although ARC is resisting a full-scale recall, automakers have issued seven smaller inflator recalls since 2017, attributed to isolated manufacturing issues. These recalls included one announced by General Motors in May involving almost a million vehicles. Ultimately, automakers are responsible for recalls.
Initially, NHTSA estimated that about 67 million inflators would need to be recalled, but it revised that figure to 52 million because of manufacturers’ responses to its investigation that overestimated that number, the agency said in press releases. documents released on Tuesday.
NHTSA says welding byproducts during manufacturing can clog a vent inside the inflator canister, designed to let gas escape to quickly fill airbags in the event of a crash. In defective products, the pressure can build up to the point where the cartridge explodes.
The inflators NHTSA is seeking to recall date from before 2018, when the ARC finished installing scopes to monitor welding byproducts and vents. NHTSA said in April it was not aware of any explosions involving inflators made after the scopes were installed.
ARC, acquired in 2016 by Chinese property developer Yinyi Group, said in letters to the government it could not say for sure whether its inflators might rupture again.
“Even with appropriate industry standards and manufacturer efforts to minimize the risk of failures, manufacturing processes may not completely eliminate the risk of occasional or isolated failures,” ARC wrote.
The company further argued that federal motor vehicle safety law “does not require that vehicles and equipment never fail in the field. Rather, safety law aims to protect the public from unreasonable risk.
ARC said that during NHTSA’s eight-year investigation of the inflators, airbag manufacturers, automakers and the government were made aware of any unexplained breaks on the roads.
But NHTSA wrote on Tuesday that it was aware of seven ARC inflator ruptures in the United States and at least two outside the United States. A breakup occurred as recently as March 22, the agency said, adding that inflators exploded outside of previously recalled groups.
“An inflator that ruptures explosively, propelling metal fragments at high speed into an occupied passenger compartment of a motor vehicle – and into the occupants themselves – cannot simply be considered a normal manufacturing defect, owners of vehicles being misinformed but bearing the risk of the peril they and their occupants face,” the agency wrote.
Marlene Beaudoin, 40, mother of 10 from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, was one of those who died after an ARC inflator exploded. She was hit by metal fragments when her 2015 Chevrolet Traverse SUV was involved in a minor accident in 2021. Beaudoin and four of his sons were on their way to buy ice cream. The sons were not injured.
Steve Polich, a Michigan attorney representing the Beaudoin family in a lawsuit against ARC, General Motors and airbag assembly maker Toyoda Gosei, welcomed NHTSA’s finding and said in an email it supports their case. .
This story has been corrected to show that at least 25 million vehicles could be fitted with ARC airbag inflators, not 33 million.