Chrysler, Kia airbags from supplier ARC being probed by U.S.
WASHINGTON -- U.S. safety regulators said they were investigating airbag inflators made by ARC Automotive Inc. for rupture, the second company to be probed for defective airbags after Japan's Takata Corp.
The ARC probe will cover airbags in about 420,000 Chrysler Town and Country minivans from model year 2002, and 70,000 Kia Optima midsize sedans from model year 2004, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in documents posted on its website today.
“Given the potential for injury and the safety-critical nature of airbags, NHTSA has opened this investigation to collect all the relevant data and determine the appropriate steps for safety,” agency spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg.
ARC makes inflators used by other auto suppliers in airbag modules that are then sold to carmakers.
"We have received NHTSA's notification and are cooperating fully with its preliminary evaluation," ARC spokesman Will Edgar said in an email to Reuters.
The investigation comes nearly two months after Takata doubled a recall of potentially deadly airbags to nearly 34 million vehicles.
The safety agency said it received two complaints involving ARC inflators, the first in December about a 2009 incident and the second in June.
The agency said there were two known injuries related to the incidents, but no known fatalities.
"At the present time it is unknown if there is a common root cause in these incidents," the NHTSA documents said.
In the case of the Chrysler minivan, an ARC inflator was placed in an airbag module assembled by another parts supplier, Key Safety Systems. Preliminary analysis suggests the gas used to inflate the bag may have been blocked by “an object of indeterminate origin” leading to an explosion, NHTSA said.
The accident led to a lawsuit filed in state court in Ohio. The explosion shot metal through the driver’s neck and into her spine and sent shards into her chest and jaw, according to the lawsuit. The case against Key Safety Systems settled quickly, plaintiffs’ attorney James Lowe, told Bloomberg News in an interview in October.
The complaint says she suffered “severe and disabling physical injuries, both physical and mental pain and suffering, was required to be hospitalized continuously for more than three months.” Neither the complaint nor NHTSA’s summary indicates a fatality.
"We are fully cooperating with the NHTSA investigation and we no longer use that inflator," Fiat Chrysler spokesman Eric Mayne told Reuters.
The cause of the second incident, reported to NHTSA in June, hasn’t been determined, Trowbridge said. That case involved a 2004 Kia Optima in New Mexico. The airbag module in that vehicle was supplied by Delphi Automotive Plc, NHTSA said. There was an injury in the accident, according to the agency.
NHTSA said the ARC inflators in question used an ammonium nitrate-based propellant, the compound seen as a contributing factor to Takata's faulty airbags, although the Japanese company has defended it.
ARC declined comment on whether ammonium-nitrate was used in the inflators being investigated.
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