U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) officials on Thursday told a public hearing that the government should require the recall of 52 million air bag inflators produced by auto suppliers ARC Automotive and Delphi Automotive because they may rupture and send metal fragments flying.
The rarely used NHTSA public hearing could prompt one of the largest recalls in U.S. history. Delphi Automotive, part of Autoliv (ALV.N), manufactured approximately 11 million of the inflators through 2004 under a licensing agreement with ARC, which manufactured the remaining 41 million inflators. An ARC executive argued against a recall during the hearing.
NHTSA enforcement official Cem Hatipoglu told the hearing that while the odds for a rupture may not be high, the consequences are “severe and potentially deadly.” The air bag issue currently is linked to one U.S fatality and seven injuries, the agency said.
“The evidence shows without a recall more people will be injured or killed,” Hatipoglu said.
The agency first demanded a voluntary recall in May, but ARC rejected it. The NHTSA issued an initial decision in September that the inflators should be recalled, the first formal step before it can force a recall.
ARC vice president Stephen Gold opposed NHTSA’s position demanding a recall, telling the hearing that the data collected and extensive testing suggested that the seven incidents linked to the inflators were “isolated” and were “not indicative of a systemic defect.”
Gold added that setting such a low threshold for a recall demand – seven incidents out of 52 million vehicles – “is unprecedented in the history of NHTSA… and will have deep consequences for the auto industry.”
The inflators that NHTSA is seeking to have recalled have been used in vehicles from 2000 through early 2018 produced by 12 automakers, including General Motors (GM.N), Ford Motor (F.N), Stellantis (STLAM.MI), Tesla (7203.T), Toyota Motor (7203.T), Hyundai (005380.KS), Kia (000270.KS), Mercedes-Benz (MBGn.DE), BMW (BMWG.DE) and Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE).
The hearing was held to consider public input on whether the agency should uphold its initial determination in September that the inflators posed an unreasonable risk to safety.
Agency officials said the odds of a serious injury was one in 370,000 air bag deployments of the inflators. They said the issue is tied to debris left in inflators during manufacturing that can become loose and cause a deadly rupture.
NHTSA official Sharon Yukevich said the data and evidence suggested there will be more ruptures.
“The timing is unpredictable and any one of the 52 million inflators is at risk,” Yukevich told the hearing.
GM in May agreed to recall nearly 1 million vehicles with ARC air bag inflators after a rupture in March resulted in facial injuries to a driver.
NHTSA has been scrutinizing air bag inflator ruptures for more than 15 years. Over the past decade, more than 67 million Takata air bag inflators have been recalled in the United States by 19 manufacturers and more than 100 million worldwide, the biggest auto safety callback on record and tied to more than 30 deaths worldwide.