ARC Automotive to Recall Millions of its Defective Airbags Used in Fifty Difference Vehicle Models
The Wall Street Journal has discovered that there are at least 50 different vehicle models from 15 automotive brands that contain airbag inflators, which regulators have warned could explode during a crash, posing a risk of metal shrapnel spraying the car’s interior. This information was obtained from records filed as part of a federal safety-defect investigation. Car manufacturers have acknowledged that approximately 6.8 million vehicles were built with these potentially dangerous airbag components, as indicated in documents submitted to regulators over the course of an eight-year government probe. However, the actual number of affected vehicles is expected to be much higher. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently demanded that parts manufacturer ARC Automotive recall a total of 67 million inflators, but they have not yet provided a comprehensive list of the models involved or the total number of vehicles covered. This lack of information makes it difficult for drivers to determine if their cars are equipped with these hazardous airbag inflators.
According to NHTSA, at least two fatalities and multiple injuries have been reported in crashes where the vehicles’ airbags exploded, causing sharp metal fragments to fly at the driver and passengers. Some victims suffered injuries to the head and face from these shards. When The Wall Street Journal requested a list of affected vehicles from NHTSA, the agency declined, stating that all public material regarding the investigation can be found on their website. NHTSA has emphasized that if the risk associated with the airbag inflators is not addressed, more incidents are likely to occur in the future.
ARC Automotive, based in Knoxville, Tennessee, has not provided information regarding the specific makes and models equipped with their inflators or any additional details upon inquiry. Furthermore, ARC has refused to comply with NHTSA’s recall demand, disputing the agency’s claim that their inflators are defective. They argue that the number of known incidents is minimal compared to the overall airbag population using these devices, and no underlying cause has been identified.
The Journal’s review of records indicates that General Motors (GM) has the highest number of vehicles identified with ARC-made inflators that are potentially dangerous, totaling at least 3.6 million cars. GM has already recalled four models spanning the years 2008 to 2017, including approximately 995,000 SUVs in the United States. However, GM has identified an additional 25 models built with these explosive airbag devices, including those sold under the Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC brands, for which no recall has been issued yet.
Below is a list of car models identified by The Wall Street Journal, based on government records, that are equipped with potentially explosive airbag inflators:
- Audi A3 (2015-2017)
- Audi R8 (2016-2017)
- Audi TT (2016-2017)
- Audi A3 e-tron (2016)
- Audi S3 (2016)
- BMW i3 (2014-2017)
- BMW X1 SAV (2016-2017)
- BMW X5 SAV (2014-2017)
- BMW X6 SAV (2015-2017)
- BMW X5 (Specifically sDrive35i, xDrive35i, xDrive50i, xDrive35d, xDrive40e variants, 2017)
- Buick Enclave (2008-2017)
- Buick LaCrosse (2005)
- Buick LeSabre (2002-2005)
- Buick Rendezvous (2003-2005)
- Cadillac CTS (2003-2005)
- Cadillac DeVille (2003-2005)
- Cadillac SRX (2004-2005)
- Cadillac STS (2005)
- Cadillac XLR (2004-2005)
- Chevrolet Cavalier (2000-2005)
- Chevrolet Corvette (2005)
- Chevrolet Equinox (2005)
- Chevrolet Express 1500 (2003-2005)
- Chevrolet Express 2500 (2002-2005)
- Chevrolet Express 3500 (2002-2005)
- Chevrolet SSR (2003-2005)
- Chevrolet Venture (2004-2005; 2010-2011)
- Chevrolet Malibu & Malibu Maxx (2004-2005; 2010-2011)
- Chevrolet Traverse (2013-2017)
- Ford Mustang (2017)
- Ford F-150 (2017)
- GMC Savana 1500 (2003-2005)
- GMC Savana 2500 (2002-2005)
- GMC Savana 3500 (2002-2005)
- GMC Acadia (2014-2017)
- Hyundai XG350 (2002-2005)
- Hyundai Tucson (2005)
- Hyundai Tiburon (2003-2005)
- Kia Optima (2001-2005)
- Kia Sportage (2005)
- Mini Cooper, Cooper Convertible, Cooper Clubman (2014-2017)
- Oldsmobile Silhouette (2004)
- Pontiac Bonneville (2003-2005)
- Pontiac G6 (2005)
- Pontiac Montana (2003-2005)
- Pontiac Sunfire (2001-2005)
- Porsche Macan (2015-2017)
- Porsche Panamera (2017)
- Saturn Vue (2002-2005)
- VW Golf, Golf SportWagen, Golf GTI, e-Golf, Golf R (2015-2017)
Other car brands, including Ford, Hyundai, BMW, and Volkswagen, have also informed regulators that they have vehicles containing ARC-made inflators subject to the defects probe. However, most of these vehicles have not been recalled for the issue, based on NHTSA recall filings.
GM has stated that it continues to investigate the matter with the assistance of a specialized third-party engineering firm and has kept NHTSA updated on its progress. Other affected car manufacturers are also in the process of investigating the issue, working with regulators, and assessing the potential impact of the recall demand on their products.
NHTSA’s letter to ARC requesting a recall is uncommon because most auto-safety recalls in the U.S. typically involve a single automaker addressing problems with its own vehicles. In this case, the regulator is urging an auto-parts supplier to address a suspected issue with millions of airbag parts installed in cars sold by multiple brands. The letter covers vehicles manufactured over an 18-year period by at least 12 automakers. So far, eight separate recalls have been conducted in the U.S. related to the airbag concern, encompassing just over one million vehicles. However, publicly known information only includes details about 13 models.
The Journal’s review of documents from automakers submitted to NHTSA during the initial three years of the ARC investigation helped identify the affected makes and models. However, the list is not comprehensive, as recent materials filed by car companies have not been publicly released.
The recalled inflators were manufactured between 2000 and 2018, according to ARC. In a letter to NHTSA, ARC disclosed that it made changes to the manufacturing process in 2018 to enhance the welding process and implement an automated inspection system.
Michael Brooks, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy nonprofit, stated that it is unusual for NHTSA to demand a recall in a publicly released letter, as was done with ARC. Typically, NHTSA specifies the affected models as part of its public records. However, given the significant number of airbag parts involved, Brooks suggests that if NHTSA possesses more detailed information on the affected models, it should consider releasing it publicly to assist consumers in identifying if their vehicles are at risk.
The wide range of models covered by NHTSA’s safety action points towards a challenging situation for both the automotive industry and consumers in accurately assessing the extent of the problem
Drawing parallels to the ongoing Takata airbag recall, which also involved exploding airbags, it becomes evident that such recalls can have substantial financial implications for automakers. The Takata recall, which began in 2014, has cost billions of dollars in repairs for affected automakers. For example, Honda Motor set aside $4.9 billion over a two-year period to cover the costs associated with the Takata recall. In total, more than 42 million vehicles from 19 automakers were recalled to address the defective airbags, making it the largest automotive safety campaign in U.S. history.
In 2017, Takata pleaded guilty to criminal misconduct for providing misleading test reports on rupture-prone airbags to automakers and agreed to pay $1 billion in penalties as part of a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department. The same year, Takata filed for bankruptcy.
Since ARC is refusing to comply with NHTSA’s recall demand, the safety regulator may need to take further steps, such as holding a public hearing to present its case, in order to impose the recall. In response, ARC could challenge the order in court.
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