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Auto safety regulators urge recall of 52 million airbags, citing risks

About 52 million air bag systems manufactured by ARC Automotive and Delphi Automotive are potentially dangerous to vehicle occupants and should be recalled, federal auto safety regulators said Tuesday.

After an eight-year investigation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) officially declared the air bag inflators from ARC and Delphi defective, the first step in the agency’s procedure for forcing both companies to recall the auto parts. NHTSA officials will hold a public hearing October 5 about the inflators and can then move to seek a court-ordered recall.

NHTSA said a recall is justified because two people have been killed in the U.S. and Canada by ARC inflators, including a Michigan woman in 2021. The air bag inflators have also caused seven injuries, the agency said.

The air bag systems in question are installed in 2000 to 2018 models of cars manufactured by BMW, Ford, GM, Hyundai, Kia, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Stellantis, Tesla, Toyota and Volkswagen, according to NHTSA documents.

“These air bag inflators may rupture when the vehicle’s air bag is commanded to deploy, causing metal debris to be forcefully ejected into the passenger compartment of the vehicle,” the agency said. “A rupturing air bag inflator poses an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death to vehicle occupants.”

Regulators suspect welding problem

NHTSA investigators believe the inflators are faulty because of improper welding by ARC and Delphi. The agency said workers at both companies likely created a “weld slag” during manufacturing, which can clog a vent inside the inflator canister that is designed to let gas escape to quickly fill air bags in a crash. In a defective air bag, pressure can build to the point where the canister is blown apart, NHTSA said.

Delphi began making the ARC-style air bag inflators in 2001 under a manufacturer license. Delphi ultimately made 11 million of the faulty parts and stopped manufacturing them in 2004, according to NHTSA.

ARC and Delphi didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

NHTSA said it asked ARC to recall the air bag inflators in May but the company refused. In a May 11letter, ARC denied its products are defective and said that any problems with its air bags “resulted from random ‘one-off’ manufacturing anomalies that were properly addressed” with individual recalls.

Automakers have conducted seven smaller recalls of inflators since 2017 that were attributed to isolated manufacturing problems. One of those recalls included General Motors, which announced in Maythat it would recall nearly 995,000 Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia vehicles from the 2014 through 2017 model years due to faulty air bag inflators.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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