By Jeff Plungis, Bloomberg News
WASHINGTON (March 27, 2015) — U.S. regulators' push for a second recall of 2.1 million cars and trucks whose airbags could go off while driving delivered more cautionary tales about a complex life-saving technology that's had a very bad year.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently held an unusual Saturday press briefing to warn the public that an earlier recall of nine models from Fiat Chrysler, Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. didn't work entirely. The agency is asking vehicle owners who haven't completed the first repair to do so now.
That may mean a second trip to an auto dealership for consumers, assuming replacement parts for the new fix are available — which they may not be until year-end. Added to the mix: Some of the cars being recalled for a second time were part of last year's massive 10-auto maker recall of Takata Corp. airbags for a different defect: inflators that could explode with deadly results.
“If you own an affected vehicle, this means driving around with the knowledge your airbag might still randomly deploy,” said Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “And just to keep it interesting, some of these vehicles are equipped with Takata airbags, meaning the random deployment could include metal shrapnel. What a mess.”
It's the biggest challenge to the technology since the mid-1990s, when NHTSA began investigating reports that first-generation airbags deployed with such force that children and small adults riding in front seats were being killed and, in some cases, decapitated.
The latest recall involves the Acura MDX, Dodge Viper, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Liberty, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Matrix, Toyota Avalon and Toyota-made Pontiac Vibe, from 2002 to 2004 model years, NHTSA said. All of the vehicles were made with an electronic component from TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. The Vibe was manufactured at a plant operated as a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors Co.
“TRW is supporting its customers in these recalls fully, and will cooperate with NHTSA and provide information to the agency if requested,” John Wilkerson, a spokesman for TRW, said in an emailed statement.
About 1 million of the Honda and Toyota vehicles listed on Jan. 31 were previously recalled for defective Takata airbags, NHTSA said.
“This is unfortunately a complicated issue for consumers, who may have to return to their dealer more than once,” said Mark Rosekind, the agency's administrator. “But this is an urgent safety issue, and all consumers with vehicles covered by the previous recalls should have that remedy installed.”
GM recalled at least 7 million vehicles in North America last year to fix faulty ignition switches that could cut power and disable airbags.