Company refuses to recall millions of airbag inflators after deaths in Canada and U.S.
A Tennessee company is refusing demands from U.S. regulators to recall over 30 million vehicles due to airbag inflators that can explode and shoot shrapnel into drivers. While cases are rare, there has been at least one death in Canada, where approximately 3.5 million vehicles could be affected. Canadian transportation officials however lack the authority to demand a similarly sweeping recall, and expect automakers to take the lead.
U.S. INVESTIGATION FINDS 'UNREASONABLE RISK OF INJURY AND DEATH'
In May, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) demanded that Knoxville-based ARC Automotive Inc. recall 67 million airbag inflators. Following an eight-year investigation, the NHTSA "tentatively" concluded that the devices are defective and pose a safety risk after at least seven injuries and two fatalities were linked to metal debris from exploding ARC inflators between 2009 and 2023.
Meant to safely inflate airbags, the devices can be found in vehicles from at least a dozen automakers, including 2002 to 2017 models by Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Hyundai, Kia and Chrysler parent Stellantis.
- Tennessee company refuses U.S. request to recall 67 million potentially dangerous air bag inflators
- GM recalls 42,000 vehicles in Canada for air bag defect
The first known fatality occurred in Canada in July 2016, when the driver of a 2009 Hyundai Elantra in Newfoundland was killed by shrapnel from an airbag inflator that exploded during a low-speed collision.
The most recent incident occurred on March 22 this year, when a Michigan driver received facial injuries after an airbag inflator ruptured in their 2017 Chevrolet Traverse.
According to U.S. officials, other incidents have involved models like the 2002 Chrysler Town and Country, 2004 Kia Optima, 2010 Chevrolet Malibu, 2015 Chevrolet Traverse, 2015 Volkswagen Golf and 2016 Audi A3.
In a May letter to ARC Automotive, U.S. regulators blamed "over pressurization" for the issue and said airbag inflators "when not defective" are "designed to save lives."
"Air bag inflators that project metal fragments into vehicle occupants, rather than properly inflating the attached air bag, create an unreasonable risk of death and injury," a the letter from the NHTSA asserted.
The company has so far refused to act, setting the stage for a potential legal battle.
“We disagree with NHTSA’s new sweeping request when extensive field testing has found no inherent defect,” an ARC Automotive spokesperson told the Associated Press.
WHAT MAKES AND MODELS ARE AFFECTED?
While U.S. authorities have not released a full list of affected vehicles, Transport Canada previously published one that covers at least 90 makes and models, including three SUVs recalled earlier in May by General Motors.
Totalling 42,000 vehicles in Canada and nearly one million in the U.S., General Motors recalled the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Chevrolet Traverse SUVs from 2014 to 2017 due to "risk of injury or death" from ARC airbag inflators.
Transport Canada says there are approximately 3.5 million vehicles in the country with driver-side ARC airbag inflators, which is more than one in 10 registered vehicles. Transport Canada's extensive list features popular Canadian models from 1998 and 2017 from major brands like BMW, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Fiat, Ford, Mercury, Lincoln, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Hummer, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn, Hyundai and Kia. The full list can be downloaded here.
An exact number of impacted vehicles in the U.S. has not been released, but it could exceed 33 million, since the 67 million devices U.S. authorities want recalled include both driver- and passenger-side airbag inflators. They were manufactured in Tennessee, Mexico and China before January 2018, when ARC made production changes to better detect potential problems.
WHAT ARE U.S. AND CANADIAN AUTHORITIES DOING?
Aside from the recent General Motors recall, automakers previously only recalled models with ARC airbag inflators from the same production lots as known incidents. Those recalls affected just 6,300 vehicles from BMW, Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen in the U.S. —a tiny fraction of what regulators are now calling for.
The 2016 incident in Newfoundland also prompted a Transport Canada investigation, which ended in 2022 and saw the lot-specific recall of over 2,300 Hyundai Elantra vehicles from 2009, the same model as the Newfoundland incident, as well as 780 other vehicles from BMW, Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen.
"The department’s investigation into this incident and the potential root cause for the airbag inflator rupture was extensive and thorough," Transport Canada's 2022 report said. "The recalled parts were sent back to the supplier for examination and testing, and they all passed quality review."
Transport Canada relies on automakers to report defects and issue recalls, and lacks the legal power to demand a sweeping recall like its U.S. counterpart.
"Unlike the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Transport Canada has no direct authority over component suppliers like ARC Automotive Inc.," a Transport Canada spokesperson told CTVNews.ca. "However, the department expects companies to issue a notice of safety defect in Canada for substantially similar vehicles and components that are recalled in other countries, including any recalls for ARC airbag inflators."
According to the spokesperson, the 2016 death in Newfoundland is the only known ARC airbag inflator rupture in Canada.
In an email to CTVNews.ca, an NHTSA spokesperson said they are currently evaluating ARC Automotive's response, and that next steps could include a public notice and meeting.
"NHTSA has investigated and identified a risk associated with a set of ARC air bag inflators that if left unaddressed would lead to more incidents in the future," the spokesperson told CTVNews.ca. "While incidents are rare, the incidents that have occurred have been severe, prompting the agency to issue a recall request."
Transport Canada and the NHTSA say they continue to work together to identify the root cause of the issue.
MANUFACTURER AND AUTOMAKERS RESPOND
Based in Knoxville, Tenn., ARC Automotive appears more in favour of limited recalls like those in Canada. In its reply to the NHTSA's letter, an ARC executive argued that automakers have not found a defect common to all 67 million inflators, and that a root cause has not been identified in known ruptures, which they described as "isolated events."
"ARC strongly disagrees with the Agency’s 'tentative conclusion' that a safety defect exists in the 67 million toroidal driver and passenger inflators produced during the 18-year period prior to January 2018," the reply from ARC stated. "ARC believes they resulted from random ‘one-off’ manufacturing anomalies that were properly addressed by vehicle manufacturers through lot-specific recalls."
ARC Automotive did not respond to a request for comment. CTVNews.ca also reached out to the automakers mentioned in this story. Only Ford, Hyundai, Kia, General Motors and Stellantis replied. Those automakers said they continue to monitor or investigate the situation.
General Motors added it recently recalled certain 2014 to 2017 SUV models because "the front-driver airbag inflator may contain a supplier manufacturing defect that may result in inflator rupture during deployment."
"GM continues to investigate this issue with the assistance of a third-party engineering firm with nationally respected engineering expertise in airbag-inflator performance," a spokesperson told CTVNews.ca. "GM is taking this expanded field action out of an abundance of caution and with the safety of our customers as our highest priority."
Hyundai, which was implicated in the fatal 2016 incident in Newfoundland, said it is working closely with both Transport Canada and the NHTSA.
"Hyundai Canada has conducted two parts return recalls of ARC airbag inflators to protect customer safety and further investigate this part following a previous incident," a spokesperson told CTVNews.ca, referring to earlier Canadian recalls of just over 2,300 vehicles. "At Hyundai, our goal is to place customers’ safety first and we will not hesitate to conduct further recalls if needed."
Michael Brooks, executive director of the U.S.-based non-profit Center for Auto Safety, told the Associated Press that the ARC issue is less dangerous than the one behind the Takata airbag recalls, which began in 2001 and involved as many as 40 million vehicles and more than a dozen deaths. It took years before consumers learned if their vehicles were impacted, and automakers like BMW and Honda are still issuing "do not drive" warnings about the issue, which led to Takata filing for bankruptcy in 2017.
Brooks says drivers should insist that dealers disclose if their vehicles have ARC airbag inflators.
"Customers, I think, have a right to know if there’s a potential defect in their car, particularly if it’s sitting a few inches from their chest and can explode," Brooks told the Associated Press. "The more customers who complain, the more pressure that puts on the manufacturers."
With files from the Associated Press
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
A Scarborough family said they were shocked to get a notice from the City of Toronto that the artificial grass in their backyard, including a putting green, will have to be ripped out.
A new study finds walking an additional 3,000 steps per day can significantly reduce high blood pressure in older adults with hypertension.
Economists warn both Canada's economy and individual Canadians could suffer from impacts of a U.S. government shutdown, and that those impacts will deepen and broaden the longer it lasts.
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said on Friday there was a 'climate of violence' and an 'atmosphere of intimidation' against Indian diplomats in Canada, where the presence of Sikh separatist groups has frustrated New Delhi.
The country's top soldier and outside experts say that finding almost $1 billion in savings in the Department of National Defence budget will affect the Armed Forces' capabilities, although the defence minister insisted Friday the budget is not being cut.
A bail bondsman charged alongside former President Donald Trump and 17 others in the Georgia election interference case pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges on Friday, becoming the first defendant to accept a plea deal with prosecutors.
Last living suspect in 1996 drive-by shooting of Tupac Shakur indicted in Las Vegas on murder charge
A man who prosecutors say ordered the 1996 killing of rapper Tupac Shakur was arrested and charged with murder Friday in a long-awaited breakthrough in one of hip-hop's most enduring mysteries.
For the past five days, vehicles laden with refugees have poured into Armenia, fleeing from the crumbling enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in neighbouring Azerbaijan. In a special report for CTVNews.ca, journalist Neil Hauer recounts what it's like on the ground in Armenia.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has set a threshold that determines which online streaming services will be subject to new rules arising from the Online Streaming Act, formerly known as Bill C-11.
America's top diplomat is again urging India and Canada to work together on bringing Hardeep Singh Nijjar's killers to justice -- and hopefully forestall a deepening of a serious geopolitical rift between two important allies.
Rising food prices have put 'an even bigger burden on families who were struggling before,' said the doctor, who is a member of Lax Kw'alaams First Nation on her father's side and Metis on her mother's side.
Some hospitals are bringing back masking - and the general public should consider it this fall too, experts say
Some hospitals are instigating stricter masking rules again amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases, and although we’ve probably seen the end of broad masking mandates, some experts say the general public should also be making more use of this tool in our arsenal of measures to fight illness.
For the first time, an international team of scientists have directly observed that antimatter – the mysterious counterpart to ordinary matter – free-falls under gravity, answering a question which has been the subject of endless speculation among the scientific community.
The man arrested Thursday in the killing of a Baltimore tech entrepreneur was released from prison last year after serving a shortened sentence for a 2013 rape and was suspected in another rape days before the slaying last week, police said.
The endangered red wolf can survive in the wild, but only with "significant additional management intervention," according to a long-awaited population viability analysis released Friday.
In the last few years, China's government has promoted increasingly conservative social values, encouraging women to focus on raising children. It has cracked down on civil society movements and made laws to drive out foreign influence.
The NFL didn't need a popularity boost before Travis Kelce became enchanted with Taylor Swift. They'll gladly welcome millions of Swifties to watch this love story unfold.
Thirteen Canadian rock bands of the 1970s and 1980s rolled back the clock on Thursday as they were inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame with a night chock full of good memories and even greater radio hits.