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From Products Liability Law Daily, July 14, 2015

NHTSA opens investigation into air bag inflators in 490,000 vehicles

By John Dumoulin

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) has opened an investigation into the potential for air bag inflator ruptures in approximately 420,000 model year 2002 Chrysler Town and Country vehicles and 70,000 model year 2004 Kia Optima vehicles. The air bag inflators in these vehicles were manufactured by ARC Automotive, Inc. The investigation is based on two alleged incidents, one involving a model year 2002 Chrysler Town and Country minivan and the other involving a model year 2004 Kia Optima. It is not known if there is a common root cause in these incidents. ODI is opening this investigation in order to collect all known facts from the involved suppliers and vehicle manufacturers (NHTSA ODI Investigation, No. PE15-027, July 13, 2015)

Problem description. ODI is aware of two incidents alleging a driver's side air bag inflator rupture in vehicles with inflators supplied by ARC Automotive. One was a complaint ODI received regarding a 2009 incident involving a model year 2002 Chrysler Town and Country minivan. The other incident was the subject of a lawsuit alleging driver side inflator rupture in a MY 2004 Kia Optima.

Background. In December 2014, ODI received a complaint of a 2009 incident involving a driver’s side air bag inflator rupture in a model year 2002 Chrysler Town and Country minivan. ODI contacted Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and conducted a search for similar incidents and, based on information obtained from FCA and the results of the search, concluded that the 2009 incident was a single isolated event. In June 2015, Kia notified ODI of a lawsuit alleging driver side inflator rupture in a model year 2004 Kia Optima. An ODI investigation revealed that both the 2009 and 2014 incidents involved an inflator supplied by ARC Automotive, which manufactures inflators that other companies use in air bag modules that are then sold to vehicle manufacturers. The inflator in question is a hybrid design which relies on two distinct sources of energy. The ARC hybrid inflators are manufactured in both single-stage and dual-stage designs.

Preliminary analysis. The incident involving the 2002 Chrysler Town and Country vehicle occurred in Ohio and involved an air bag module produced by Key Safety Systems that had a dual-stage ARC inflator. Preliminary analysis indicates that the exhaust path for the gas mixture used to inflate the air bag cushion may have been blocked by an object of indeterminate origin. This blockage appears to have caused high internal pressure and subsequent rupture of the inflator assembly. ODI’s present understanding is that this incident is the only known inflator rupture involving the ARC inflator in an FCA vehicle. The incident involving the 2004 Kia Optima vehicle occurred in New Mexico. The air bag module in question was manufactured by Delphi and had a single-stage ARC inflator. The root cause of the rupture is presently unknown. Presently, this is the only known incident involving the subject inflator in a Kia vehicle.

Companies: ARC Automotive, Inc.; Chrysler; FCA US LLC; Kia Motors Corp.; Key Safety Systems; Delphi Automotive PLC

MainStory: TopStory MotorVehiclesNews

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