General Motors has recalled over 400,000 Chevrolet and GMC pickups because their side-impact airbags can trigger unexpectedly, sending shrapnel spewing through the cabin.
This is the latest in an ongoing series of recalls that involve Takata, the bankrupt Japanese airbag supplier. Around 100 million vehicles sold worldwide have so far been recalled due to defective Takata airbags.
The latest recall covers some versions of the 2015 and 2016 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, including 1500, 2500 and 3500 models. Only trucks sold in the U.S. are covered by the service action, at least for now.
According to documents posted today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the airbags can unexpectedly rupture or have their end caps fly off. Significantly, several incidents have occurred where the airbags triggered while the vehicles were parked.
No injuries – this time
In previous incidents involving Takata airbags, the devices were triggered by a crash but then inflated with excess force, causing plastic and metal particles to spew into the passenger compartment. A total of 19 fatalities have been linked to Takata airbags so far, the latest involving a motorist driving a Honda Accord in South Carolina last January.
According to GM, it has received reports of three instances where the side-mounted airbags in Chevy and GMC pickups triggered unexpectedly. The vehicles were unoccupied, however, and no injuries occurred.
One of those trucks was in Florida at the time, the other two in Texas. Safety experts have linked the Takata problem to regions of the U.S. and other markets where vehicles are exposed to high heat and humidity.
A safety device with a deadly design
The Japanese supplier used a controversial technique to power its airbags, relying on explosive ammonium nitrate triggered by an electric current during a crash. But the chemical can become unstable over time, a situation complicated by manufacturing defects, as well as long-term exposure to heat and humidity.
The chemical “squibs” generate the hot gas used to inflate an airbag in a carefully timed process. But if an inflator fails it can generate far more force than the device is meant to handle, breaking off pieces that can fly off with deadly results.
This is the second time GM has recalled those trucks due to airbag defects. It initially targeted just 9,000 Chevy and GMC pickups last year.
Recall record – and it keeps growing
Worldwide, Takata has been responsible for the largest recall in automotive history, about 100 million vehicles impacted, 67 million in the U.S. A total of 19 manufacturers, including major automakers like Ford, GM and Toyota, have been affected, as well as smaller brands such as Rolls-Royce and Ferrari.
The airbags covered by the new recall actually were produced by Joyson Safety Systems, the Chinese-owned company that purchased Takata out of bankruptcy. The faulty bags were produced at an old Takata plant in Mexico.
Owners of the affected vehicles will begin receiving notification next month. As has been the case with prior Takata recalls, however, there is a shortage of replacement parts. GM will notify owners when it has new airbags available. Repairs will be handled by dealers at no charge.