Fiat Chrysler rejects certain Takata air bags

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is eliminating the use of the most dangerous type of air-bag inflators made by Japanese supplier Takata, even though they are not currently subject to recall.

The company said Tuesday that by next week it “will cease NAFTA-market production of vehicles” equipped with inflators that don’t have a chemical agent to keep the propellant ammonium nitrate dry. Humid conditions can cause that propellant to become unstable and explode with excessive force and throw shrapnel at drivers and passengers. Many of those inflators have been recalled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Exploding Takata inflators have been tied to 11 deaths, possibly 13 deaths, and more than 100 injuries worldwide.

Global production of cars with the type of air bags that have been recalled is expected to end by mid-September, according to Fiat Chrysler.

The company said Tuesday most of its cars in the U.S. use a different type of substance to power their inflation than the devices that have been recalled by NHTSA. Others include a drying agent called a desiccant to keep the ammonium nitrate dry.

“The 2016 Jeep Wrangler’s passenger-side inflator is the final FCA US air bag component to migrate from a non-desiccated ammonium-nitrate design,” Fiat continued. “The company is unaware of any failures involving this inflator.”

Takata has been ordered to recall all the defective air bags by the end of 2019. The recall is being implemented in a phased approach that prioritizes cars that were sold in states with high temperature and humidity like Florida. Michigan is among the lowest-priority states in the recall.

Analysts have said it could take years for all the air bags to be replaced. Some have questioned whether Takata can survive the latest blow.

Fiat Chrysler was one of four companies that was accused by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., of continuing to equip cars with Takata air bags after they were recalled because of their defective inflators.

“These defective air bags are still being produced ... and installed as replacement inflators in the recalled vehicles, meaning that millions of consumers are going to have to replace their air bags not once, but twice,” Nelson, who is the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said during a recent hearing on Capitol Hill.

Fiat Chrysler has said in response to Nelson that it “is not equipping any new vehicles with components that are currently subject to recall.”

The company said Tuesday that NHTSA’s recall schedule emphasizing air bags in cars that were sold or registered in the most humid parts of the U.S. “ensures the inflators will be recalled and replaced before they become dangerous, giving vehicle owners sufficient time to have them replaced before they pose a danger to vehicle occupants.”

Nelson applauded Fiat’s decision to eliminate the use of air bags that are included in the NHTSA recall on Tuesday.

“Ridding vehicles of these dangerous inflators is the right thing to do to ensure the safety of consumers,” he said.

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing