A dozen automakers in the US might soon have to recall more than 50 million vehicles if the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gets its way. The agency published on Tuesday its Initial Decision that certain airbag inflators manufactured by ARC and Delphi should be recalled.
NHTSA has been investigating reports of rupturing airbag inflators from the two companies since 2016. In April, the agency sent a letter to ARC requesting it initiate a recall, but the company declined.
The Initial Decision says the agency believes that the friction welding process to bind the inflator's upper and lower pressure vessels can produce slag that can block the inflator exit during airbag deployment. If the piece of slag is large enough, it can cause the inflator to over-pressurize and rupture, sending shrapnel and metal fragments into the passenger compartment.
NHTSA says it has identified seven people injured by rupturing inflators and one person killed, and it has been a complex investigation. The seven incidents involved inflators produced at different times at three different facilities used by four different module suppliers and installed into four different vehicle makes.
One of the first incidents happened in 2009, with the most recent in March 2023 in a Chevrolet Traverse. People have been injured in Kia, Chrysler, Hyundai, and Volkswagen vehicles. In May, GM issued a recall for nearly 1 million SUVs from Buick, Chevrolet, and GMC for the airbags that could rupture. It could be the first of many recalls issued in the coming months after NHTSA finalizes its decision, which could come as soon as next month.
The airbag inflators in question were produced from 2000 to 2018. During that time, ARC made 41 million inflators, while Delphi made 11 million before stopping production in 2004. In January 2018, ARC implemented a new examination process to detect excess weld slag in the inflator. NHTSA says it's unaware of any inflator ruptures after the company began the new examination process.
NHTSA will host a public meeting on October 5, which it will livestream, for ARC and others to argue that the inflators don't have a safety defect. The agency did not say when it could offer its final decision.
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