The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) confirmed that one person in the U.S. was killed by metal shrapnel from a driver-side airbag that deployed in a Volvo sedan.
Volvo said they first learned about the airbag death in June 2019, when they were contacted by an attorney. The incident has been the subject of NHTSA and Volvo discussions since August 2019.
It is the only known rupture incident for this type of airbag inflator worldwide, according to the NHTSA.
Now, more than a year after learning of the death, Volvo has decided to recall 54,000 model-year 2001-2003 S60 and S80 sedans in high-humidity regions due to a risk of the airbags rupturing.
The airbags were made by ZF Group (now known as ZF-TRW). They are not related to Takata airbags, which are linked to 17 deaths and more than 200 injuries in the U.S.
ZF airbags contain a different chemical propellant than Takata airbags, but like Takata airbags, the failure is linked to heat and humidity.
Volvo is limiting the recall to vehicles that were sold or registered in 12 hot and humid states, mostly in the South: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
The recalls also covers vehicles in the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan), and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Volvo believes that high heat, humidity and moisture can decay the explosive chemical tablets that inflate the airbag. This may cause the inflator to rupture and spray metal shrapnel at people in the vehicle.
Volvo will send recall notices to owners starting January 4, 2021, and then another recall notice when replacement airbags are available.