NHTSA seeks to recall 52 million ARC and Delphi air bag inflators

On Tuesday, the federal auto safety regulators moved to recall about 52 million air bag inflators used by dozens of major automakers, calling the parts unsafe and prone to tearing.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has scheduled a public meeting for October 5 regarding its recommendation to recall the airbags, manufactured by ARC Automotive and Delphi Automotive Systems. ARC rejected the agency’s initial findings that its airbags were defective.

The agency said at least seven people were injured and one person was killed in seven crashes in the United States as a result of the defective airbags.

Of the 52 million airbags, 41 million were manufactured by ARC and 11 million were produced by Delphi using an ARC-licensed design. Airbags are manufactured in various forms in China, Mexico, and Knoxville, Tennessee, and have been used by dozens of major automakers: BMW, Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, Kia, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Stelantis, Tesla, Toyota, and Volkswagen. .

“An air bag inflator that malfunctions due to rupture not only performs its function as a safety device, but also threatens injury or death, even in the event of an accident in which the vehicle’s occupants could not have been harmed,” the agency said in its announcement.

ARC and Delphi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ARC issue comes several years after the safety agency investigated inflators made by Takata Corporation, the Japanese supplier, which were found to detonate violently and suddenly, even when the airbags were not deployed in a crash. In this case, the regulators determined that Takata used a propellant that could degrade over time as a result of exposure to moisture.

The safety agency has linked the Takata defect to more than a dozen deaths in the United States. More than 70 million vehicles equipped with Takata blowers have been recalled in more than 40 countries.

And in April, the safety agency, in a letter to ARC, demanded that the company recall tens of millions of airbag inflators manufactured from 2000 to 2018.

Agency investigators found that a small number of inflators designed by ARC could detonate with greater force than intended when the vehicle’s airbags are deployed, thus “presenting an unreasonable risk of death or injury,” the letter states.

The letter prompted GM to recall nearly one million vehicles built from 2014 to 2017 that were equipped with the ARC blower. The automaker said it was taking the measure “out of an abundance of caution”.

In response to the agency’s request, ARC declined to issue a recall and said in a letter in May that it did not believe there was a defect, and in its view NHTSA’s findings were not based on “any objective technical or engineering conclusion.”

Inflators use an explosive such as ammonium nitrate that is compressed into tablets stored in a metal cylinder. In crashes severe enough to detonate the vehicle’s airbags, the discs should create a controlled explosion that quickly fills the airbags with gas.

The safety agency said it found that the ARC manufacturing process can leave bits of solder material, known as welding slag, inside the cylinder. If the airbags were deployed, this material could block the exit hole and cause an explosion violent enough to detonate fragments of metal and plastic inside the vehicle.

The agency has been looking into the ARC bellows since 2015. The last incident involving a tear occurred in Michigan in March, when the driver of a 2017 Chevrolet Traverse sustained facial injuries.

In its letter to regulators in May, ARC said welding slag had been ruled out as the cause of two of the seven accidents cited by the agency, and that it had not yet been conclusively found to be the cause of the other five.

Large-scale product recalls, and any related legal expenses, can result in significant costs for inflator makers. After a Takata recall, the largest in auto history, that forced it to pay millions of dollars in fines to US regulators, the company filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and was sold to Joyson Safety Systems, formerly Key Safety Systems.

Takata was responsible for the cost of replacing the faulty inflators—a task that local auto dealerships handle—but the bankruptcy filing left the automakers footing the bill. About 11 percent of damaged airbags have yet to be replaced, according to the safety agency’s latest estimate.

The agency has come under scrutiny for its investigations into vehicle defects. In May, the DOT Inspector General issued a report concluding that the agency’s Office of Defects Investigation had not identified and investigated safety defects in a timely manner.

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