General Motors, GM, has asked for a one year delay in Takata airbag recalls related to GM vehicles so that a research firm, Obital ATK, can complete a study of the airbags. The research is aimed at determining the service life of the inflators, and is scheduled for completion in August 2017. GM claims that the research conducted to date has indicated that the Takata inflators in its vehicles are “likely to perform as designed until at least December 31, 2019.
The airbags in question were installed on the passenger side of approximately 980,000 GM full size trucks and SUVs manufactured between 2007 and 2011. According to Automotive News, the airbag inflators include a propellant that lacks desiccant, a drying agent. As a result, the airbags may explode and shoot shrapnel at the occupants when a vehicle is involved in an accident. To date, there have been over 100 injuries and 15 deaths linked to the inflators worldwide.
In May 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, expanded and accelerated the Takata inflator recall. The first recall was initiated in 2008 and included 2001 Honda Civics and Accords because the air bag inflators had the potential to produce an excessive amount of pressure that could cause them to rupture. By 2011, the recall had been expanded to include 2001 through 2003 Honda and Acura vehicles after two deaths were found to be related to the Takata inflators. By 2013, the Takata recall included Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Mazda. Finally, in 2014, NHTSA opened an investigation into whether regions with high humidity had any bearing on the risk of contributed to the airbag explosions. It was found that moisture did, in fact, have a bearing on whether the airbags exploded in a crash.
As a result of NHTSAs expanded recall, Takata Corp., the Japanese supplier of the airbags, plans to declare additional Takata airbags defective in December 2016. That declaration will initiate the recall process as ordered by the NHTSA and does include GM vehicles. Because of the shortage of replacement inflators, NHTSA has included a regional schedule that is based on the risk of the particular vehicles involved. The recalls are scheduled to be issued yearly from December 2016 to December 2019.
GM does not believe that its vehicles should be included in the recall, at least until completion of the research. The company stated, at this time, its vehicles do not present an unreasonable safety risk. Its request is “based on no inflator ruptures during an estimated 44,000 crash deployments as well as analysis of parts returned from the field, and can be explained by the unique Takata inflator made for GM’s vehicles and features unique to GM trucks and SUVs.” GM believes its vehicles are not a risk because the inflators were designed specifically for its vehicles and include features that minimize the devices exposure to moisture.
GMs request is scheduled to be published on September 20, 2016. The public will then have until October 4 to comment on whether they believe the request should be approved. Once the comment period has ended, NHTSA will have until November 16 to either approve or deny the request.
The Takata recall has continued to expand since 2008. Why all vehicles that were manufactured and included the particular inflators that are the subject of the recall were not included in the initial recall is unknown. But, it is now 2016 and the recall keeps expanding. Since vehicle manufacturers were aware, or should have been aware, of an issue with specific Takata inflators, it seems unreasonable that research was not initiated until 8 years later. GM may have extra features that help reduce the risk, but it has had plenty of time to research the issue. Instead, it chose to ignore the situation until it was forced to address the problem.