NHTSA Push to Recall 52 Million Air Bag Inflators, Could Be Largest Recall In History

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The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is facing a critical decision that could lead to one of the largest recalls in American automotive history. During a rarely convened public hearing, NHTSA officials presented a compelling case for the mandatory recall of 52 million air bag inflators manufactured by ARC Automotive and Delphi Automotive. The primary concern is that these inflators, which are integral safety components in millions of vehicles, may rupture during deployment, potentially sending dangerous metal fragments flying.

The inflators in question were produced by two auto suppliers: Delphi Automotive, which manufactured approximately 11 million units through 2004 under a licensing agreement with ARC, and ARC Automotive, responsible for the remaining 41 million inflators. Although NHTSA had initially requested a voluntary recall in May, ARC rejected the proposal. Subsequently, in September, NHTSA issued an initial decision to mandate the recall, marking the first formal step toward compelling action.

At the heart of the matter is the potential for catastrophic consequences. While the odds of an inflator rupture may not be exceedingly high, NHTSA enforcement official Cem Hatipoglu emphasized the severity of the outcome, describing it as “severe and potentially deadly.” So far, this air bag issue has been linked to one fatality and seven injuries in the United States.

Hatipoglu argued, “The evidence shows without a recall, more people will be injured or killed.” This statement underscores the urgency of the situation and the responsibility of the NHTSA to prioritize public safety.

During the hearing, ARC vice president Stephen Gold pushed back against NHTSA’s recall demand. Gold maintained that the data and extensive testing indicated that the seven incidents linked to the inflators were “isolated” and not indicative of a systemic defect. He also expressed concerns about the precedent set by such a low threshold for initiating a recall—seven incidents out of 52 million vehicles—and the potential ramifications for the auto industry.

The air bag inflators in question have been utilized in vehicles produced from 2000 through early 2018 by 12 major automakers, including General Motors, Ford Motor, Stellantis, Tesla, Toyota Motor, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volkswagen. This widespread usage amplifies the significance of the NHTSA’s decision.

The root cause of the inflator issue lies in debris left during the manufacturing process, which can become dislodged and trigger a rupture, posing a lethal risk. NHTSA official Sharon Yukevich highlighted the unpredictability of the timing, stating, “The timing is unpredictable, and any one of the 52 million inflators is at risk.”

This is not the first time that air bag inflator ruptures have drawn the scrutiny of NHTSA. Over the past decade, more than 67 million Takata air bag inflators have been recalled in the United States by 19 different manufacturers. Globally, this issue has resulted in more than 100 million recalls and has been linked to over 30 deaths—an alarming statistic that underscores the gravity of the situation.


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