Exclusive: USA opens investigation of 30 million vehicles about airbag inflators

Heavy vehicle traffic can be seen in the Ocean Beach neighborhood of San Diego, California, USA ahead of the July 4th vacation on July 3, 2020. REUTERS / Bing Guan

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19 (Reuters) – U.S. auto security investigators have opened a new investigation into 30 million vehicles built by nearly two dozen automakers with potentially defective Takata airbag inflators, a government document released by Reuters revealed on Sunday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Friday opened a technical analysis of an estimated 30 million U.S. vehicles from model years 2001 through 2019. Automakers have been made aware of the investigation, which is not yet public.

The new investigation includes vehicles manufactured by Honda Motor Co. were mounted (7267.T), Ford Motor Co (FN), Toyota Motor Corp. (7203.T), General Motors Co (GM.N), Nissan Motor (7201.T), Subaru (7270.T), Tesla (TSLA.O), Ferrari NV, Nissan Motor (TAMO.NS), Mazda (7261.T), Daimler AG (DAIGn.DE), BMW (BMWG.DE) Chrysler (now part of Stellantis NV (STLA.MI)), Porsche cars (PSHG_p.DE), Jaguar Land Rover (owned by Tata Motors (TAMO.NS)) and other.

The automakers on Sunday either declined to comment ahead of the expected public announcement by the NHTSA on Monday, or did not immediately respond to requests for comment. NHTSA declined to comment.

The 30 million vehicles include both vehicles that had the inflators installed when they were manufactured and some inflators that were used in previous recall repairs, NHTSA said in the document.

In the past decade, more than 67 million Takata airbag inflators have been recalled in the United States – and more than 100 million worldwide – in the largest auto safety recall in history because inflators can, on rare occasions, release deadly metal fragments.

There have been at least 28 deaths worldwide, including 19 in the US related to defective Takata inflators and more than 400 injured.

The 30 million vehicles that are part of the new investigation have inflators with a “desiccant” or desiccant. According to the document, the NHTSA said there had been no reported breakages of vehicles on the roads with airbag inflators containing the desiccant.

“Although no current safety risk has been identified, more work is needed to assess the future risk of uncalled dried inflators,” NHTSA said at the opening of its technical analysis seen by Reuters. “More studies are needed to assess the long-term safety of dried inflators.”

The NHTSA has said the cause of the inflator explosions linked to the recall of 67 million inflators that can release deadly fragments is fuel degradation after long-term exposure to high temperature fluctuations and humidity. The agency has requested that all similar Takata be recalled without desiccant.

In the United States, 16 deaths were reported in Honda vehicles, two in Ford vehicles and one in a BMW, while another 9 Honda deaths occurred in Malaysia, Brazil and Mexico.

The NHTSA did not immediately release a breakdown of how many vehicles per manufacturer were covered by the investigation.

The security agency said the investigation would “require extensive information on Takata’s manufacturing processes and on-site inspections of gas generators.”

Earlier this year, the NHTSA said that of the 67 million gas generators recalled, approximately 50 million have been repaired or otherwise accounted for.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Adaptation by Diane Craft

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