The U.S. Government Wants To Recall 67 Million Airbags – But The Manufacturer Disagrees

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is urging a recall of 67 million airbag inflators following a thorough investigation into their potential to rupture and cause harm to drivers and passengers. These inflators, manufactured by ARC Automotive, Inc., were supplied to various airbag manufacturers and incorporated into vehicles by multiple automakers.

The NHTSA’s concern arises from incidents where these inflators have led to injuries and even fatalities. While the agency deems them a safety risk, ARC Automotive disagrees, citing past recalls by automakers to address specific manufacturing anomalies.

The NHTSA has identified nine incidents, including one fatality, where ARC’s airbag inflators ruptured, causing harm to occupants. In its letter to ARC Automotive, the agency emphasized that such inflators pose an “unreasonable risk of death and injury” as they propel metal fragments instead of inflating the airbag as intended. Seven incidents occurred in the US, while one fatality and another incident happened outside the country.

ARC Automotive, however, disputes the NHTSA’s assertion that its inflators have a safety defect. The company responded with a letter, arguing that manufacturers using its products have not identified any widespread or recurring issues across the inflator population. In addition, they referenced a test involving 918 inflators obtained from salvage yards, none of which exploded during rigorous laboratory testing.

The company contends that the incidents were isolated and attributed them to “one-off” manufacturing anomalies, which automakers had addressed through lot-specific recalls. As an example, General Motors recently issued a recall for one million vehicles due to potentially suspect airbag inflators.

Despite ARC’s position, the NHTSA cautioned GM that a thorough explanation and additional analysis would be necessary if the automaker chooses not to recall its vehicles. The agency maintains the authority to take appropriate action if it concludes that ARC’s inflators indeed have a safety defect.

It is worth noting that the NHTSA has been investigating airbag rupture-related incidents for the past 15 years. The recall of over 67 million Takata airbags, which were prone to rupture and release metal fragments, serves as a significant precedent. Takata’s airbags were associated with 18 deaths and more than 400 injuries, leading to lawsuits, a substantial settlement, and the company’s closure.

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