GM seeks to avoid Takata recalls for fourth straight year

Keith Laing
The Detroit News

Washington — General Motors Co. is again seeking to avoid the recall of thousands of pickups and SUVs that are part of a massive recall of potentially deadly Takata air bags.

In a petition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, GM argued for the fourth year in a row that certain of its vehicles should be excluded from the widespread recall because the defects are "inconsequential" to the safety of its pickups and SUVs due to "differences in inflator design and vehicle integration." 

GM's request for exemption includes the following 2010-2014 models: Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500, GMC Sierra 2500/3500, Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, Chevrolet Avalanche, GMC Yukon, GMC Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade, Cadillac Escalade ESV and Cadillac Escalade EXT.

Exploding Takata air-bag inflators have been linked to at least 16 deaths and more than 250 injuries in the United States, according to NHTSA. At least 24 people have died worldwide.

As propellant in the Takata inflators ages, especially in humid conditions, it can become unstable and explode with too much force. That can cause the inflators to rupture and throw metal shrapnel at drivers and passengers.

GM said in the petition posted by the government Wednesday that it had deployed 4,270 of the inflators after exposing them to humidity and temperature extremes without a reported rupture.

The automaker said in a statement Wednesday it is confident that its testing shows the inflators "do not present an unreasonable risk to safety, continue to perform as designed in the field and will continue to perform as designed in line with the results of our accelerated aging studies." 

Federal regulators ordered Japanese supplier Takata to call back the air bags in 2015. GM previously petitioned for exemptions in November 2016, September 2017 and January 2018. The latest request was filed by GM in January, but it was not made public by NHTSA until Tuesday.  

Nearly 50 million Takata inflators have been recalled in the U.S., making it the largest automotive safety recall in U.S. history. Nearly 1-in-8 cars on U.S. roads has been recalled as a result of the defect. Another 20 million air bags in newer cars are expected to be called back in the next couple of years.

NHTSA says only about 31 million of the air bags recalled by May 10 have been repaired. The defective safety devices from the now-bankrupt auto supplier were used in 41.6 million cars that have been recalled.

GM has repaired 991,343 of the 1.4 million Takata air bags it had recalled, according to NHTSA.

Drivers have accused the company of stalling with its repeated requests for exemptions to the Takata recall. 

"I am fed up with GM's continued refusal to repair this deadly device they put in my vehicle claiming theirs is 'special,'" Ann Kennedy of Monticello, Fla., who owns a 2008 Chevy Silverado, said in a comment on GM's exemption petition.

"Something has to be done to rectify this situation," she wrote. "They are trampling on our 'Right to Safety' and it doesn't seem like we, the potential victims, have any recourse."  

Safety advocates in Washington have argued against GM's petitions for exemptions to the Takata recall, and they have accused NHTSA of dragging its feet on making a decision about the company's request.

"By submitting a fourth request, GM continues to essentially tell the public that their Takata air bags are safe, thus avoiding a recall without making enough information publicly available to prove such a claim," said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy nonprofit. "Moreover, NHTSA’s continued failure to rule on the petition keeps 7 million GM owners in limbo.”

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing