Federal regulators have given General Motors a temporary reprieve, allowing it time to prove that the Takata airbags used in 2.5 million vehicles, including the popular Chevrolet Silverado pickup, use a unique and safe design and thus don’t need to be recalled.
Ultimately, GM could be allowed to halt several other recalls involving Takata airbags, a move that could affect 6.8 million vehicles, in the process saving the automaker about $870 million, according to documents it filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Faulty Takata airbags have so far been linked to at least 11 deaths in the U.S. and 16 worldwide. That has led to the recall of about 100 million vehicles globally, according to industry estimates, half of them in the United States.
The exact cause of the problem remains a topic of debate, though it is generally accepted that Takata airbags are prone to fail over time if used in warm, high humidity climates, such as Southern Florida. An industry-funded research panel this year also declared that Takata inflators using the explosive chemical ammonium nitrate were vulnerable to malfunction as they age, wherever they are operated.
(Troubled airbag supplier may soon file for bankruptcy. Click Here for the story.)
If the bags do misfire, that can cause plastic and metal shrapnel to spew into the passenger compartment.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has ordered a series of recalls for Takata airbags, the government calling for repairs to be completed in several stages, initially focusing on those used in older vehicles.
But GM said that its version of the Takata airbags has a unique design that can prevent them from rupturing in a crash. Among other things, there are bigger vents that can diffuse some of the excess gases created when an inflator is triggered by a crash. The GM bags also uses stronger steel end caps that are less likely to rupture.
(For more on the latest Takata airbag death, Click Here.)
In a petition asking the government to delay a recall for GM vehicles including the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra, the automaker noted that of 52,000 Takata airbags used in those trucks and various SUV models that were involved in crashes none ruptured when inflated. Tests of 1,475 GM bags by Takata, meanwhile, found non malfunctioned. And the Detroit maker said that when it artificially aged another 12 Takata bags using its design non ruptured.
The government now wants to have GM provide additional data that would show that it does not need to replace its Takata airbags, or that they can at least be left in service for a longer period of time before they would need be replaced.
The maker has contracted with a Virginia-based engineering company, Orbital ATK, to continue testing. If the tests prove positive, GM will likely be allowed to forego a recall of 2.5 million trucks. It could then seek to cancel or delay the recall of another 4.3 million more vehicles using Takata airbags of that unique design.
(NHTSA reports showing hundreds of Takata airbags rupturing in testing. For more, Click Here.)
NHTSA expects to receive monthly updates and says it will order the GM vehicles recalled immediately if any problems show up in the new round of tests.