Airbag Manufacturer Defies The Feds By Refusing To Recall 67 Million Vehicles

Airbag Manufacturer Defies The Feds By Refusing To Recall 67 Million Vehicles
May 2023

ARC Automotive Inc., an airbag manufacturer out of Tennessee, is refusing a National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) demand to recall 67 million vehicles following reports the airbag inflators could explode. Unfortunately, two people have already been killed in the US and Canada.

The NHTSA posted a letter on its official website late last week stating: "The agency contends that welding debris from the manufacturing process can block an 'exit orifice' for gas that is released to fill the airbag in a crash. Any blockage can cause pressure to build in the inflator, blowing it apart and hurling metal fragments."

Does this sound familiar? It should be because it's precisely what happened with the Takata airbag debacle back in 2015, to date, the largest vehicle recall in automotive history. Takata later filed for bankruptcy. As of last December, at least 24 people have been killed in the US due to defective Takata inflators.

In this latest situation, General Motors has already issued a recall of its own for vehicles equipped with these ARC inflators.

So far, the recall covers certain 2014-2017 examples of the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, and GMC Acadia SUVs. But ARC has refused to meet the feds' demand because it argues that there is insufficient evidence of an actual defect.

The company's vice president, Steve Gold, wrote that the NHTSA's position is not based on technical or engineering objective data, "but rather conclusory statements regarding hypothesized blockage of the inflator orifice from 'weld slag.'"

Furthermore, Gold argues that welding debris has yet to be confirmed as the cause for the seven reported inflator ruptures recorded in the US. The company also claims that just five ruptures have occurred, and this "does not support a finding that a systemic and prevalent defect exists in this population."

Gold adds that recalls must be done by manufacturers, not suppliers like ARC. In short, the NHTSA's recall demand is not within its authority. This latest airbag inflator controversy actually began a year ago when a federal lawsuit was filed against the company alleging its inflators use ammonium nitrate as a secondary propellant to inflate the airbags. What's wrong with that?

The propellant is pressed into tiny tablets that could expand and develop microscopic holes when exposed to moisture. These degraded tablets, therefore, have a larger surface area that causes them to burn too fast and ignite too big of an explosion, the lawsuit states. That explosion could blow up a metal canister that houses the chemical, resulting in metal shards being blown into the cabin. Ammonium nitrate, for those who don't know, is the same chemical used in fertilizer. It's a cheap chemical to use but it can burn too fast without moisture present.

The NHTSA will next be holding a public hearing that could lead to a forced recall.