May 13, 2023 -DETROIT (AP) — A Tennessee company could be heading for a legal battle with U.S. auto safety regulators after refusing a request that millions of potentially dangerous air bag inflators be recalled.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is demanding that ARC Automotive Inc. of Knoxville recall 67 million inflators in the U.S. because they could explode and hurl shrapnel. At least two people have been killed in the U.S. and Canada, and seven others have been hurt as a result of defective ARC inflators, the agency said.
The recall would cover a large portion of the 284 million vehicles now on U.S. roads, but the percentage is difficult to determine. Some have ARC inflators for both the driver and front passenger.
In a letter posted Friday, the agency told ARC that it has tentatively concluded after an eight-year investigation that ARC front driver and passenger inflators have a safety defect.
“Air bag inflators that project metal fragments into vehicle occupants, rather than properly inflating the attached air bag, create an unreasonable risk of death and injury,” Stephen Ridella, director of NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation, wrote in a letter to ARC.
But ARC responded that it no defect exists in the inflators, and that any problems are related to isolated manufacturing issues.
The next step in the process is for NHTSA to schedule a public hearing. It could then take the company to court to force a recall.
“We disagree with NHTSA’s new sweeping request when extensive field testing has found no inherent defect,” ARC said in a statement Friday night.
Also Friday, NHTSA posted documents showing that General Motors is recalling nearly 1 million vehicles equipped with ARC inflators. The recall covers certain 2014-2017 Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, and GMC Acadia SUVs.
The automaker says an inflator explosion “may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants, resulting in serious injury or death.”
Owners will be notified by letter starting June 25, but no fix is available yet. They’ll get another letter when one is ready.