Federal safety regulators denied a petition by Ford Motor Co., forcing the automaker to recall 3 million vehicles equipped with Takata driver-side airbags that are potentially defective and could rupture and injure the vehicle’s occupants.
Ford as well as Mazda Motor Corp. asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2017 to not force them to recall vehicles with the faulty inflators. Mazda will recall 5,800 vehicles as a result of NHTSA’s ruling on the petition.
The airbag inflators are part of the largest recall in U.S. history with automakers required to recall 67 million airbag inflators, which when exposed to high humidity for a prolonged period can suddenly explode sending plastic and metal shrapnel into the vehicle cabin causing injuries and possible deaths. Thus far 18 people in the U.S. and more than two dozen globally have died as a result of the exploding inflators.
The recall applies to Ford Ranger, Fusion, Edge, Lincoln Zephyr/MKZ, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKX vehicles from the 2006 through 2012 model years, along with Mazda 2007–2009 model year B-Series vehicles, which were designed and built by Ford using the same airbag inflators on the small pickups.
The agency denied the automakers’ appeal, saying the “evidence makes clear that these inflators pose a significant safety risk.”
NHTSA recently said there are at least 17 million vehicles with Takata airbags remain unrepaired. In addition to the fatalities, more than 400 people have been injured due to the inflators.
Reuters reported that Ford said Tuesday the vehicles the NHTSA was ordering be recalled were subject to an earlier Takata recall for the passenger-side airbag but did not comment further. Mazda did not immediately comment.
The agency said the automakers 30 days “submit to NHTSA a proposed schedule for the notification of vehicle owners and the launch of a remedy.” Two people have died driving Ford vehicles, a recalled 2006 Ford Ranger, due to the defect.
In 2015, NHTSA and Takata agreed on a consent order from the agency, forcing the auto supplier to file four defect information reports about the inflators. They were installed in vehicles from 12 automakers. In November of that year, the agency implemented a “Coordinated Remedy Program” to speed up the repair process as well as ensuring there were enough replacement parts available.
The latest and final phase of the extended Takata recall began early last year, covering about 10 million faulty bags used in vehicles sold by 14 manufacturers, including Audi, BMW, Honda, Daimler (vans), Fiat Chrysler, Ferrari, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota and Volkswagen. Vehicles covered by this wave include some dating back as far as 1999 and as new as 2014 Subaru Forester, Legacy and Outback models.
In some cases, some older vehicles actually may have been recalled previously. In some instances, automakers tried a temporary fix, installing new inflators using the same, discredited technology because replacements with alternative propulsion systems weren’t available yet due to manufacturing shortages. The idea was that newer inflators were less likely to malfunction, at least for a while. Now, as more of the new inflator designs are available, those vehicles will need a second replacement.
Ultimately, about 100 million airbags will have to be replaced worldwide, 70% of those in the United States. The exact number of vehicles involved is uncertain, as many use more than one of the faulty Takata airbags. But it is believed to be at least 50 million, according to various experts.