Canadian Authorities Powerless Amid Massive U.S. Airbag Recall Effort

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As the U.S. intensifies efforts to recall at least 25 million vehicles due to airbag inflators with an explosive risk that can send shrapnel flying into drivers, Canadian authorities find themselves without the power to command a similarly comprehensive recall, and instead anticipate that automakers will lead the charge.

Asserting their commitment to the safety of Canadian citizens, a representative from Transport Canada stated, “Transport Canada will not hesitate to take action to protect the safety of Canadians.” They follow this with an expectation that companies will issue safety defect notices in Canada for vehicles with significantly similar components that are being recalled in other nations. This includes any recalls for ARC airbag inflators.

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Caught in the crosshairs of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Tennessee-based ARC Automotive Inc. has so far abstained from heeding demands to recall vehicles equipped with their airbag inflators. Since 2009, these inflators have been connected to at least seven injuries and two fatalities, including one in Newfoundland in 2016, and a recent injury in Michigan in March of 2023.

U.S. authorities have now arranged a public hearing on October 5 to discuss the issue, a prerequisite before seeking a court-ordered recall that might affect 52 million driver and passenger airbag inflators—equivalent to nearly 25 million vehicles, an impressive fraction of the 284 million vehicles currently on U.S. roads.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has described the risks succinctly: “These airbag inflators may rupture when the vehicle’s airbag is commanded to deploy, causing metal debris to be forcefully ejected into the passenger compartment. A rupturing airbag inflator poses an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death to vehicle occupants.”

The potentially dangerous inflators, intended to securely inflate airbags, are installed in vehicles from at least 12 automakers. Notably, the implicated models include the 2002 Chrysler Town and Country, 2004 Kia Optima, 2009 Hyundai Elantra, 2010 Chevrolet Malibu, 2015 Volkswagen Golf, 2016 Audi A3, as well as 2015 and 2017 Chevrolet Traverse. The inflators of concern were all manufactured prior to January 2018.

Despite growing concerns and scrutiny, ARC Automotive insists there is no overarching safety issue and terms the cited incidents as “isolated events,” which they believe are the results of random manufacturing anomalies that were correctly addressed by vehicle manufacturers through lot-specific recalls.

While U.S. authorities strive to recall all vehicles equipped with pre-2018 ARC airbag inflators, Transport Canada’s recalls have targeted inflators from specific production batches tied to known incidents and issues. To date, recalls in Canada have affected only 45,507 vehicles out of an estimated 3.5 million vehicles fitted with ARC airbag inflators.

The Canadian recalls predominantly encompass models ranging from 2009 to 2017 by manufacturers such as BMW, Ford, Hyundai, General Motors, and Volkswagen, with the majority attributed to the May 2023 recall of more than 42,000 Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia SUVs from 2014 to 2017.

Transport Canada has released a comprehensive list of vehicles equipped with driver-side ARC inflators. These include models ranging from 1998 to 2017 from major brands such as BMW, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Fiat, Ford, Mercury, Lincoln, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Hummer, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn, Hyundai, and Kia, collectively representing more than one in every ten registered vehicles.

In a prior comment, a Transport Canada spokesperson admitted their lack of direct authority over component suppliers like ARC Automotive Inc. while keeping a vigilant eye on the situation. Transport Canada and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have been collaborating on this issue since 2016.