NHTSA demands 67-meter tow of lethal airbag inflators; The company does not agree

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is calling for the maker of a potentially defective airbag component to recall 67 million units. But the manufacturer, ARC Automotive, says it is not proceeding with the recall.

China’s Sensteed Hi-Tech Group (000981.SZ), based in Knoxville, Tennessee, makes inflators for airbag units, which have been used by at least 12 different automakers in the United States, according to NHTSA.

ARC airbag inflators used prior to 2018, based on field reports collected by NHTSA, were found to have a certain defect wherein in some cases the airbag inflator ruptures when inflated – and metal particles are ejected into the passenger compartment. (ARC airbag inflators manufactured after 2018 have a safety feature that detects debris in the inflator” mitigating the potential for rupture in the field.)

NHTSA cites 9 specific incidents that resulted in physical injury (two of which were outside the United States). Among them, two lead to fatal injuries. The incidents began in 2009, with the most recent in March 2023.

“NHTSA has investigated and identified a risk associated with a range of ARC air bag inflators that if left unaddressed could lead to more accidents in the future,” an NHTSA spokesperson said in a statement to Yahoo Finance. “While accidents are rare, the accidents that did occur were serious, prompting the agency to issue a recall. NHTSA takes this action within its powers to investigate potential defects and supervise recalls as required by the Motor Vehicle Safety Act.”

NHTSA has reported on accidents in cars by Stellantis (Chrysler), Kia, GM, and Audi, as well as remedial efforts by BMW, Ford, GM, and Volkswagen to address airbag-related issues.

General Motors actually issued a recall on May 12 of nearly a million vehicles with ARC airbag inflators due to the potential defect; Four of the accidents reported by NHTSA involved General Motors vehicles.

The 2017 GMC Acadia (L) and Acadia Denali are shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, January 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Blanch

“GM is voluntarily recalling certain 2014 to 2017 Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave models. On these vehicles, the front driver air bag inflator may contain a supplier manufacturing defect that could cause the inflator to rupture during deployment,” a General spokesperson said. Motors in a statement to Yahoo Finance. “GM is taking this expanded field action out of an abundance of caution and with the safety of our customers as our top priority.”

In a letter to the NTSA dated May 11, ARC wrote that while it agrees with GM’s move to recall the vehicles due to “potential concerns” about the amplifiers, it does not agree with NHTSA’s request for a full recall.

In its letter, the ARC wrote that the NHTSA’s investigation into the defect was not “based on any objective technical or engineering conclusion,” but rather conclusions and conclusions based on the seven incidents that occurred in the United States. “The agency then requests ARC to prove a negative – that the 67 million inflators in this population are not defective,” the ARC wrote.

ARC says the NHTSA, auto manufacturers, and air bag unit suppliers have not been able to determine the “root cause” of rupture in the inflators, and ARC believes the problems with the defective inflators were “one-off” manufacturing anomalies that were addressed by the automakers in their inflator operations. A specific recall made in the past.

ARC says that under the NHTSA Safety Code, a “defect” means more than an isolated failure, and the NHTSA subpoena request does not amount to “establishing a common root cause or that these failures were non-accidental or isolated.”

Finally, ARC says that NHTSA’s ability to request safety recalls does not apply to parts manufacturers like ARC. “The NHTSA Safety Code and Implementing Regulations expressly state that vehicle manufacturers, not original equipment manufacturers, must be held responsible for any defects found in the original equipment installed in their vehicles.”

What are the next steps? Assuming the impasse between NHTSA and ARC remains, the NHTSA could schedule a public hearing, or start litigation to force the ARC to recall its airbag inflators.

ARC did not immediately respond when Yahoo Finance reached out for comment.

Pras Subramanian is a correspondent at Yahoo Finance. You can follow it Twitter and on Instagram.

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