US Escalates Airbag Recall as Canadian Officials Await Automaker Actions

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As United States officials move to escalate the recall of at least 25 million vehicles due to hazardous airbag inflators that could potentially explode and dispatch shrapnel towards drivers, their Canadian counterparts are left without the power to require an equivalent company-wide recall, and instead are reliant on automakers to take action.

Asserting their commitment to ensuring the safety of Canadian citizens, a representative from Transport Canada communicated that the department anticipates companies to implement safety defect notices for markedly similar vehicles in Canada that have been recalled in other countries, specifically those with ARC airbag inflators.

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ARC Automotive Inc., based in Tennessee, has staunchly resisted pressures from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to recall millions of vehicles fitted with its airbag inflators, despite a history of at least seven injuries and two fatalities since 2009, linked to the company’s product.

As a consequential measure, U.S. authorities have slated an October 5 public hearing to discuss the matter, a crucial stage before potentially introducing court-ordered recalls that could affect 52 million driver and passenger air bag inflators, or a minimum of 25 million of the 284 million vehicles traversing U.S. roadways.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has warned that these airbag inflators might rupture when activated, shooting metal debris into the vehicle’s cabin, which they describe as posing an ‘unreasonable risk of serious injury or death to vehicle occupants’, following an in-depth eight-year investigation.

The potentially defective devices responsible for safely inflating airbags are present in vehicles from a dozen automakers, including models such as the 2002 Chrysler Town and Country, 2004 Kia Optima, 2009 Hyundai Elantra, 2010 Chevrolet Malibu, 2015 Volkswagen Golf, 2016 Audi A3, and the 2015 and 2017 Chevrolet Traverse. All suspected faulty inflators were manufactured before January 2018.

Disputing the safety concerns raised, ARC Automotive has dismissed this as isolated incidents, attributing them to random manufacturing anomalies correctly addressed by the vehicle manufacturers through product-specific recalls.

In contrast to U.S. officials pursuing a far-reaching recall of all pre-2018 ARC airbag inflators, recalls by Transport Canada have been largely limited to specific manufacturing lots associated with known incidents. The total number of vehicles with ARC airbag inflators recalled in Canada since 2017 stands at 45,507, which is a small fraction of the estimated 3.5 million vehicles in the country equipped with ARC airbag inflators.

The Canadian recall list contains 2009 to 2017 models from major brands like BMW, Ford, Hyundai, General Motors, and Volkswagen, with over 90 per cent of these arising from a May 2023 recall of more than 42,000 SUV models from 2014 to 2017, including Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, and GMC Acadia.

Adding to this, Transport Canada has compiled an extensive register of vehicles equipped with driver-side ARC airbag inflators, featuring 1998 to 2017 models from major automotive brands – equivalent to more than one in every 10 registered vehicles.

In earlier remarks, a representative from Transport Canada clarified that the federal department does not exercise direct authority over component suppliers such as ARC Automotive Inc., but continues to monitor the situation in Canada and globally, in collaboration with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation.