NHTSA allows GM to delay recall to prove air bag safety

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Federal regulators are allowing General Motors Co. to delay a planned recall of 2.5 million vehicles with Takata air bag inflators until September 2017.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Tuesday that it is granting “a short deferral of GM’s obligation” to recall the vehicles with Takata air bags after the Detroit automaker filed a petition with the agency in September that requested additional time for the company and a third-party research firm to complete a long-term study to better understand the service life expectancy of the parts.

GM has said it expects the study to be completed in August 2017.

NHTSA said Tuesday it will require GM to make public monthly updates on the progress of the studies.

“If at any point there is any evidence of a testing or field rupture, NHTSA can immediately act to reject the petition and compel the recall,” NHTSA spokesman Bryan Thomas said in an email. “GM is continuing its work to design replacement inflators in the interim.”

The recall involves certain pickups and SUVs from the 2007-11 model years, including the Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon.

GM has said it believes the vehicles are safe to drive and that the propellant in these inflators is “not currently at risk.” It believes these inflators likely will perform as designed until at least the end of 2019.

The vehicles were initially recalled as part of the massive Takata recall campaign, which began in 2013, and has grown to include nearly 70 million inflators in cars made by 17 manufacturers.

The impacted vehicles have Takata air bag inflators that could rupture because of a propellant that can degrade after the vehicles have been exposed to long-term humidity and repeated hot-and-cold cycles. If an inflator ruptures, it can throw metal shards that can kill or injure drivers and passengers. Shrapnel from exploding Takata inflators has been linked to at least 11 deaths and more than 100 injuries globally.

GM argued in its petition that its analysis “shows that even the oldest of these vehicles will continue to perform as designed for at least another 31/2 years, even in the highest heat and humidity regions.”

NHTSA said Tuesday it “will ultimately make a data-driven decision on the petition based on its own safety analysis of all available information.”

It could cost GM $870 million if it has to replace 6.8 million Takata air bags overall in full-size trucks and SUVs, according to previous regulatory filings.

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing

Staff Writer Mike Wayland contributed to this report.