Airbag manufacturer refuses to recall 67 million devices

By Niren Gray Desai for Dailymail.Com and Associated Press

22:11 May 14, 2023 updated 22:32 May 14, 2023

  • ARC Automotive Inc. refused. In Knoxville, 67 million defective air bags were recalled
  • The device can deliver shrapnel to occupants and has already killed seven people

An air bag component manufacturer in Tennessee has refused to recall 67 million devices that can explode and throw shrapnel at motorists during an accident.

Defective air bags are installed on a variety of General Motors vehicles. They have already killed two people and injured seven in the United States and Canada, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

ARC Automotive of Knoxville may now be heading into a legal battle with US auto safety regulators after denying a recall request for potentially dangerous air bag inflators.

The recall would cover a significant portion of the 284 million vehicles now on American roads, but it’s hard to say what percentage. Some have ARC bellows for both the driver and front passenger.

The 67 million airbag inflators that NHTSA wants to recall were all produced in the 18-year period prior to January 2018, when ARC installed equipment to help inspect the airbag inflators, according to the company.

A Tennessee air bag maker has refused to recall 67 million devices that could explode and throw shrapnel at motorists in an accident.

Defective air bags in which the parts are used are installed in a variety of General Motors vehicles and have already killed two people

The retractable airbags were made by Takata Airbag Manufacturing, a now bankrupt Japanese company, but ARC manufactured the inflatable component.

In a letter published Friday, the agency told ARC it had tentatively concluded after an eight-year investigation that the front driver and passenger air pumps had a safety defect.

“Inflating an airbag that drops metal fragments into the occupants of a vehicle, rather than properly inflating an attached airbag, creates an unreasonable risk of death and injury,” Stephen Redella, director of NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation, wrote in a letter to ARC.

But ARC responded that there was no defect in their inflators and that any problems were related to isolated manufacturing issues.

“We disagree with NHTSA’s new comprehensive request when extensive field testing found no inherent defect,” ARC said in a statement Friday night.

The next step in the process is for the NHTSA to schedule a public hearing. The feds can then sue the company to force a recall.

On Friday, NHTSA published documents showing that General Motors is recalling nearly 1 million vehicles equipped with ARC pumps. The recall covers 2014-2017 Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia SUVs.

The car company’s recall is separate from the blower that I recall NHTSA required to implement ARC.

The automaker says the blow-by blast “may result in sharp metal fragments slamming into the driver or other passengers, resulting in serious injury or death.”

Owners will be notified by letter starting June 25th, but there is no fix available yet. They’ll get another message when one of them is ready.

GM says it will offer “courtesy transportation” on a case-by-case basis to owners who fear driving vehicles that are part of the recall.

The company said it is conducting the recall, which expands on previous actions, “out of an abundance of caution and with the safety of our customers as our highest priority.”

The airbags that were recalled were originally from Takata Airbag Manufacturing, a now bankrupt Japanese company.

One of the fatalities was a mother of 10 who was killed in what appeared to be a minor accident in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the summer of 2021. Police reports show that shrapnel from a metal blower hit her neck in an accident that hit a 2015 Chevrolet Traverse SUV.

NHTSA said at least a dozen automakers have allegedly faulty inflators in use, including Volkswagen, Ford, BMW and GM.

The agency claims that welding debris from the manufacturing process can block the “exit hole” for gas released to fill the airbag in the event of a crash.

Ridella’s letter says any blockage can cause pressure to build up the blower, blowing it off and hurling metal shards.

But in a response to Ridella dated May 11, ARC Vice President of Product Safety Steve Gould wrote that NHTSA’s position “is not based on any objective technical or engineering conclusion about a defect,” but rather definitive statements regarding presumed blowhole blockage from “welding slag.”

He writes that welding debris was not confirmed as the cause in any of the seven blower lacerations in the US ARC asserting that only five had ruptured during use, and this ‘does not support the finding of a systemic and common abnormality in this population.’

Gold also writes that manufacturers should make recalls, not equipment manufacturers like ARC. NHTSA’s withdrawal request, he wrote, exceeds the agency’s legal authority.

Stephanie Erdmann testifies at a Senate committee hearing about defects in the Takata airbags in Washington, D.C. in November 2014
ARC Vice President of Product Safety Steve Gold said NHTSA’s position is not based on any objective technical or engineering conclusion

In a federal lawsuit filed last year, plaintiffs alleged that ARC’s inflators used ammonium nitrate as a secondary propellant to inflate the air bags.

The propellant is compressed into tablets that can expand and develop microscopic holes if exposed to moisture.

According to the lawsuit, the disintegrating discs have a greater surface area, causing them to burn very quickly and ignite a very large explosion.

The blast could detonate a metal can containing the chemical, sending metal fragments into the cabin. The suit says ammonium nitrate, which is used in fertilizers and cheap explosives, is so dangerous that it can burn very quickly even without moisture present.

Prosecutors allege that ARC inflators exploded seven times on US roads and twice more in a test conducted by ARC. There have so far been five limited recalls of the pumps totaling about 5,000 vehicles, including three by General Motors.

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