US wants recall of 67 million airbag inflators but manufacturer

US wants recall of 67 million airbag inflators, but manufacturer disagrees

NEW YORK (CNN) – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is requesting an immediate recall of 67 million airbag inflators due to a dangerous defect, the agency said in a letter to ARC Automotive, a major manufacturer of the component. However, the automotive supplier that manufactured the component denies the need to even conduct a full-scale recall.

NHTSA reported at least nine incidents in which Knoxville-based ARC Automotive airbags ruptured as of 2009, resulting in significant injury or even death. Seven of the nine incidents, including one fatality, occurred in the United States. According to the company, the 67 million airbag inflators that NHTSA wants to recall were all manufactured in the 18 years prior to January 2018, when ARC installed inflator inspection equipment.

Millions of vehicles with airbags from the now bankrupt Japanese manufacturer Takata are already under recall. NHTSA said these airbags also detonated when deployed with prolonged exposure to high heat and humidity.

Compared to ARC, the Takata airbags caused at least 18 fatalities and left more than 400 drivers with injuries including blindness and maiming. It’s also the largest car recall in history.

The airbag inflators are used by at least 12 vehicle manufacturers, but NHTSA did not specify which.

In 2021, a driver of a 2015 Chevrolet Traverse died in Michigan after the airbag inflator ruptured. And outside of the United States, a driver was also killed in Canada by a blown airbag inflator in a 2009 Hyundai Elantra, according to the NHTSA letter.

“Airbag inflators that eject metal fragments into vehicle occupants instead of properly inflating the attached airbag pose an unreasonable risk of death and injury,” the agency’s letter said.

GM said it will recall nearly a million cars in the US because the airbag inflator “could explode during deployment due to a manufacturing defect.”

2014-2017 Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia vehicles with modules manufactured by ARC Automotive are affected by this recall. The dealer will replace the airbag module.

However, ARC disagrees on the need for a recall.

In a letter Thursday, Steve Gold, ARC’s vice president of product integrity, said the company “totally disagrees” with the agency’s preliminary conclusion that a recall of 67 million airbags is necessary.

The letter criticized NHTSA, saying that the agency’s request for a recall “was not based on an objective engineering or technical conclusion as to the existence of a defect” and that the “outages were anything but occasional or isolated.”

To support the company’s claims, Gold cited a nearly eight-year collaboration with NHTSA on an investigation into ruptured airbag inflators, including tests on 918 inflators that were removed from cars from junkyards and sent to the company’s labs for testing.

“None of the 918 gas generators failed during testing,” Gold wrote in response to NHTSA’s request for a recall. “Accordingly, the testing program demonstrated with 99 percent confidence and 99 percent certainty that the inflators would deploy in the subject population without rupturing.”

At least one of the breaks cited by NHTSA was simply the result of an “isolated manufacturing anomaly,” Gold wrote, and therefore a broader recall was unnecessary. And the Canadian incident with the Hyundai Elantra, Gold added, involved a component not used in the US market.

Additionally, “NHTSA’s authority to require certain manufacturers to conduct safety recalls does not extend to original equipment manufacturers such as ARC,” Gold wrote in the letter.

But Gold went on to say that the company “understands that GM’s actions are taken out of great caution to address potential gas generator concerns,” as three of the incidents specifically involved the Chevy Traverse.

Despite ARC’s protests, NHTSA still wrote that it expects the number of incidents to reach levels that warrant a full-scale recall. It cited seven incidents to support its arguments. One incident resulted in death, another resulted in “serious” injuries, and several others sustained facial injuries.

CNN has reached out to ARC and NHTSA for further comment.

– CNN’s Chris Isidore contributed to this.