Takata Airbag Problem Affects Some 2015 GM Vehicles

By TOM KRISHER | October 19, 2015

The deadly problem with exploding Takata airbag inflators continues to spread to newer vehicles, this time hitting a small number of 2015 General Motors cars and SUVs.

GM is recalling more than 400 vehicles because the side airbag inflators could rupture and send shrapnel into drivers and passengers, according to the company and documents posted Saturday by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The GM recall is the latest in a problem that continues to widen with no end in sight. U.S. regulators have warned that more manufacturers and newer models are likely to be recalled. Eight people have been killed worldwide because of the faulty inflators and more than 100 have been hurt.

So far, about 23.4 million Takata driver and passenger airbag inflators have been recalled on 19.2 million U.S. vehicles sold by 11 different companies, including Honda and Fiat Chrysler. Last month, the NHTSA sent letters to seven more companies seeking information on models with Takata inflators and warning that the recalls could grow.

Takata’s inflators use ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion that inflates the air bags in a crash. But Takata has said the chemical can degrade inside inflators that are exposed to high temperatures and airborne humidity for prolonged periods. That can cause the chemical to burn too fast, blowing apart a metal canister designed to contain the explosion.

“All Takata-made ammonium nitrate inflators are within the scope of our investigation,” agency spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said Saturday. “If NHTSA determines that additional recalls are necessary to protect public safety, we will take action.”

Messages were left Saturday seeking comment from a Takata spokesman.

The latest recall covers certain 2015 Chevrolet Equinox, Malibu and Camaro vehicles as well as the Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac XTS and GMC Terrain. GM told the NHTSA that on Oct. 5, one side air bag inflator exploded with too much force in testing at a Takata plant in Mexico. Takata notified GM on Oct. 6, and GM traced the inflators to 414 vehicles in North America. The company decided on the recall on Oct. 9, according to the documents.

Thousands of other GM cars and SUVs have the seat-mounted Takata inflators. But GM spokesman Alan Adler said other vehicles don’t have the problem.

“No other lots of airbag inflators are suspect,” he said in an e-mail.

Dealers are contacting the vehicle owners and GM already is shipping replacement inflators that weren’t part of the faulty lot. The company will make loaner cars available to owners, who should get to a dealer as soon as possible to get the cars repaired, Adler said. Dealers also will arrange to pick up the vehicles and take them in for repairs, Adler said. No crashes or injuries have been reported with the recalled vehicles, he said.

The GM recall is the second report of side airbag inflators rupturing in newer models. The NHTSA has been investigating a June crash involving a Volkswagen SUV near St. Louis in which the left side airbag inflated with too much force. The crash between a deer and a 2015 VW Tiguan was the first reported in a Volkswagen and the first involving a side air bag. Previously, Takata said the problems were limited to older models and front airbags.

The NHTSA is preparing for a public meeting Thursday in Washington to discuss the Takata investigation and whether the agency will take over management of all the recalls to speed up repairs. As of Sept. 1, only 4.4 million air bag inflators had been replaced. Automakers have had to scramble to get parts.

The recalls currently cover 11 auto and truck companies including BMW, Daimler Trucks, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota. But the NHTSA warned that recalls could spread to Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar-Land Rover, Suzuki, Tesla, Volvo Trucks, Volkswagen and Spartan Motors.

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