US moves to force 52 million airbag bellows that can explode and spew shrapnel

DETROIT (AP) — The US government is taking a major step toward forcing a defiant Tennessee company to recall 52 million airbag inflators that can explode, spewing shrapnel and injuring or killing people.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Tuesday that it has made a preliminary determination that the blowers manufactured by ARC Automotive Inc., under license from another company, are defective. The agency has scheduled a public hearing for October 5, which is a required step before it decides to request a court-ordered subpoena.

In May, the agency asked ARC to recall the blowers, which it says have been responsible for at least seven injuries and two deaths in the United States and Canada since 2009. But ARC refused to issue a widespread recall, paving the way for a possible recall. Court battle.

Messages were left on Tuesday for comment from ARC. The company maintains that there is no safety defect, that the NHTSA request is based on a hypothesis rather than technical conclusions, and that the agency has no authority to order a parts manufacturer to announce recalls.

“These air bags may explode when the vehicle’s air bag is ordered to deploy, causing metallic debris to be forcefully hurled into the vehicle’s passenger compartment,” NHTSA wrote in the initial decision document. A ruptured air bag inflator poses an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death to vehicle occupants.

NHTSA wants ARC to recall the blowers in the driver and passenger frontal airbags from at least a dozen automakers. Neither ARC nor the auto industry has released a complete list of vehicle models that have the type of air bag inflator that has detonated. But at least 25 million of the 284 million vehicles on US roads are believed to contain it.

Owners of cars made by at least a dozen automakers—Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Ford, Toyota, Stellanz, Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Hyundai, and Kia—are left anxiously wondering if their cars are It has inflators made for the driver or front passenger. by the Agricultural Research Center.

Although ARC is battling a large-scale recall, automakers have had seven smaller inflator recalls since 2017 that are attributed to isolated manufacturing issues. Those recalls included one that General Motors announced in May that affected nearly 1 million vehicles.

NHTSA initially said an estimated 67 million inflators should be recalled, but revised the number to 52 million due to manufacturer responses in its investigations that exceeded the number, the agency said in documents released Tuesday.

NHTSA asserts that by-products from welding during manufacturing can block the vent hole inside the blow case that is designed to allow gas to escape to quickly fill the air bags in the event of an accident. In defective products, pressure can build up to the point where the can bursts.

In 2018, ARC completed the installation of periscopes to monitor weld by-products and vents. NHTSA said in April that it was not aware of any explosions related to bellows manufactured after the periscopes were installed.

ARC, which was acquired by Chinese property developer Yinyi Group in 2016, said in letters to the government that it could not say for sure whether its blowers might explode again.

“Even with appropriate industry standards and efforts by manufacturers to minimize failure risk, manufacturing processes may not completely eliminate the risk of accidental or isolated failures,” ARC wrote.

The company also argued that the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Act “does not require vehicles and equipment to never fail in the field. Rather, the safety law seeks to protect the public from unreasonable risks.”

The company also argued that the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Act “does not require vehicles and equipment to never fail in the field. Rather, the safety law seeks to protect the public from unreasonable risks.”

ARC said that during NHTSA’s eight-year investigation into the blowers, air bag makers, automakers and the government were notified of any unexplained tearing on the roads.

The company has noted in the past that no automaker has found a defect common to all inflators and that the root cause of an inflator rupture has not been determined.

One of the people who died after the ARC bellows exploded was Marilyn Bowdoin, a 40-year-old mother of ten from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She was hit by metal fragments when her 2015 Chevrolet Traverse SUV was involved in a minor accident in 2021. Bowdoin and four of her children were on their way to get ice cream. The children were not harmed.


This story has been corrected to show that at least 25 million vehicles can have ARC air bag inflators, not 33 million.

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