US opens 30 million vehicle investigation into airbag inflators

Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles intended for shipment to a port in Yokohama, Japan.

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U.S. auto safety investigators have opened a new investigation into 30 million vehicles built by nearly two dozen automakers with potentially defective Takata airbag inflators, according to a government document seen by Reuters on Sunday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Friday opened a technical analysis on about 30 million US vehicles from model years 2001 to 2019. Automakers have been alerted to the investigation, which is not yet public.

The new survey includes vehicles assembled by Honda, Ford, Toyota, General Motors, Nissan, Subaru, Tesla, Ferrari, Mazda, Daimler, BMW, Chrysler (now part of Stellantis), Porsche, Jaguar Land Rover (owned by Tata Motors) and others.

On Sunday, automakers either declined to comment ahead of NHTSA’s expected public announcement on Monday, or did not immediately respond to requests for comment. NHTSA declined to comment.

The 30 million vehicles include both vehicles that the inflators were installed on during their manufacture as well as some inflators that were used in previous recall repairs, NHTSA said in the document.

Over the past decade, more than 67 million Takata airbag inflators have been recalled in the United States – and more than 100 million worldwide – in the largest auto safety recall in history because inflators can send deadly metal shards flying in rare cases.

There have been at least 28 deaths worldwide, including 19 in the United States linked to faulty Takata inflators and more than 400 injured.

The 30 million vehicles that are part of the new survey have inflators with a “desiccant” or drying agent. According to the document, NHTSA said there had been no reported breakdown of vehicles on the roads with airbag inflators with the drying agent.

“While no current safety risk has been identified, more work is needed to assess the future risk of unreecalled desiccated inflators,” NHTSA said in opening its technical analysis seen by Reuters. “Further study is needed to assess the long term safety of dried out inflators.”

The NHTSA said the cause of the inflator explosions linked to the recall of 67 million inflators that can emit fatal fragments is the decomposition of the propellant after long-term exposure to high temperature fluctuations and humidity. The agency has demanded the recall of all similar Takata without desiccant.

In the United States, 16 deaths in Honda vehicles have been reported, two in Ford vehicles and one in a BMW, while 9 more Honda deaths have occurred in Malaysia, Brazil and Mexico.

NHTSA did not immediately release a breakdown of the number of vehicles by manufacturer covered by the investigation.

The security agency said the investigation “will require detailed information about Takata’s production processes and field inflator investigations.”

Earlier this year, NHTSA said of the 67 million recalled inflators, approximately 50 million have been repaired or are otherwise accounted for.

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