GM Ordered to Recall Millions of Cars Over Air Bag Defects

A GMC truck sits in a General Motors dealer lot in Nashville, Tenn., in 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

DETROIT (CN) — General Motors announced Monday that the federal government has ordered it to recall and repair millions of pickup trucks and SUVs equipped with potentially dangerous Takata air bag inflators, which have been the subject of numerous lawsuits and recall efforts over the past decade.

The decision from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, is expected to cost GM in the neighborhood of $1.2 billion, which is more than one-fourth of its third quarter income for 2020, according to the auto industry giant.

The U.S. Department of Transportation agency denied GM’s latest petition arguing against what it considered an unwarranted recall which will compel GM to recall and repair passenger air bags in about 5.9 million vehicles.

The defective air bag inflators in question, manufactured by the formerly Tokyo-based Takata Corporation, have been the subject of the largest series of recalls in the history of the U.S. auto industry, with at least 63 million inflators recalled, according to the NHTSA.

Takata used volatile ammonium nitrate to rapidly fill air bags, but deterioration of the chemical when exposed to heat and humidity can cause them to explode, blowing apart a metal canister and spewing shrapnel.

The NHTSA reports that at least 18 people have been killed and hundreds have been injured across the U.S. alone by air bags containing the defective inflators, which have reportedly caused 27 deaths worldwide.

The transportation agency’s Monday decision, it says, is based on “a thorough analysis of all available data provided on these air bags, including engineering and statistical analyses, field data, ballistic tests and an inflator aging study.” GM now has 30 days to provide the agency with a proposed schedule for the notification of vehicle owners and the launch of a remedy.

The latest recall covers multiple GM full-size pickup trucks and SUVs spanning model years 2007 through 2014, including several types of the Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, in addition to Chevrolet’s Avalanche, Suburban and Tahoe trucks.

The Detroit automaker released its own statement on Monday saying that although it disagrees with the government’s position based on its own data from independent evaluations, “we will abide by NHTSA’s decision and begin taking the necessary steps.” A communications spokesman with GM could not be immediately reached by email for further comment on the recall decision Monday.

The company claimed in its petition that it tested more than 4,200 of the Takata inflators and that none of the air bags abnormally deployed or exploded, trying to make the case that the inflators’ odds of failure were extremely remote based on its own analysis.

The NHTSA was unpersuaded. GM’s 2019 petition, according to the agency’s official denial, went “far beyond the scope and complexity of any inconsequentiality petition the agency has considered, let alone granted.” The automaker tried to argue for providing notice to car owners instead of issuing a recall to remedy defective inflators it felt were proven to be safe, but the agency said “GM bears a heavy burden, and the evidence and argument GM provides suffers from numerous, significant deficiencies.”

The scandal over the defective Takata air bag inflators and Takata’s initial attempts to cover up their hazardousness resulted in criminal charges against the Tokyo company and ultimately resulted in its bankruptcy in 2017, after which it was sold to a Chinese-owned auto supplier.

The U.S. government says that as of September, more than 11.1 million Takata inflators had not been fixed. About 100 million of them have been recalled around the world.

Shares of GM rose nearly 3% in Monday morning trading to $44.23.

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