The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is moving to force a recall for 52 million airbag inflators manufactured by ARC Automotive and Delphi Automotive.
The agency said it will hold a public hearing on October 5 regarding its initial assessment that the inflators are defective.
The government first demanded the recall back in May after investigators concluded that the airbag inflators can shoot out metal shrapnel and fail to inflate the airbags in a collision.
The initial assessment involved 67 million airbag inflators, but that number was revised down to 52 million.
Investigators linked the problem to 2 deaths in the U.S. and Canada, plus another 7 people who were injured by metal shrapnel over the past 18 years, according to the NHTSA.
One of the most tragic deaths was a mother with 10 children who died in Michigan when her ARC airbag exploded after a minor fender-bender.
ARC Automotive has refused to issue a recall and continues to insist that any issues related to the inflators are linked to isolated manufacturing issues.
NHTSA officials argue that excess metal called “weld slag” produced during the manufacturing process can block an exit hole for gases when the air bag deploys.
If the blockage is big enough, the airbag inflator can rupture and shoot out metal shrapnel that can hit people in the face, neck, head, chest, or body, which may result in severe injuries or death.
According to the NHTSA:
“Airbag inflators that rupture when commanded to deploy are plainly defective, as they both fail to protect vehicle occupants as they should, and, themselves, pose an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death.”
The airbag inflators in question have been manufactured since 2000 and installed in millions of vehicles that were sold by 12 auto-makers, including BMW, Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA), Ford, General Motors (GM), Hyundai, Kia, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Tesla, Toyota, and Volkswagen (VW).
ARC Automotive is a company based in Knoxville, Tennessee, that was acquired in 2016 by the Chinese real estate developer Yinyi Group. The company manufactured about 41 million airbag inflators that the NHTSA is seeking to recall.
Delphi Automotive, a company acquired by Autoliv, Inc., manufactured approximately 11 million of the inflators under a licensing agreement with ARC.