As U.S. officials take further steps to recall at least 25 million vehicles over airbag inflators that can explode and shoot shrapnel into drivers, their Canadian counterparts lack the authority to demand a similarly sweeping recall and expect automakers to take the lead.
“Transport Canada will not hesitate to take action to protect the safety of Canadians,” a spokesperson from Canada’s federal transportation department said in an email to CTVNews.ca. “Transport Canada expects companies to issue a notice of safety defect in Canada for substantially similar vehicles and components that are recalled in other countries, including any recalls for ARC airbag inflators.”
Tennessee-based ARC Automotive Inc. has so far refused demands from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to recall millions of vehicles with its airbag inflators, which have been linked to at least seven injuries and two deaths since 2009, including a 2016 fatality in Newfoundland and a March 2023 injury in Michigan.
U.S. authorities have now scheduled an Oct. 5 public hearing on the issue, a necessary step before seeking a court-ordered recall that could cover 52 million driver and passenger air bag inflators, or at least 25 million of the 284 million vehicles on U.S. roads.
“These air bag inflators may rupture when the vehicle’s air bag is commanded to deploy, causing metal debris to be forcefully ejected into the passenger compartment of the vehicle,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wrote in an initial decision document, following an eight-year investigation. “A rupturing air bag inflator poses an unreasonable risk of serious injury or death to vehicle occupants.”
Meant to safely inflate airbags, the devices can be found in vehicles from at least a dozen automakers. According to U.S. authorities, known incidents have involved models like the 2002 Chrysler Town and Country, 2004 Kia Optima, 2009 Hyundai Elantra, 2010 Chevrolet Malibu, 2015 Volkswagen Golf, 2016 Audi A3, and the 2015 and 2017 Chevrolet Traverse. The potentially unsafe inflators were all manufactured before January 2018.
ARC Automotive has denied an overall safety issue exists and has described incidents as “isolated events.”
“ARC believes they resulted from random ‘one-off’ manufacturing anomalies that were properly addressed by vehicle manufacturers through lot-specific recalls,” a previous letter from the company to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated.
While U.S. officials seek to recall all vehicles with pre-2018 ARC airbag inflators, Transport Canada’s recalls have focused on inflators from specific production lots associated with known incidents and issues. A total of 45,507 vehicles with ARC airbag inflators have been recalled in Canada since 2017, which is only 1.3 per cent of the approximately 3.5 million vehicles that contain ARC airbag inflators in the country.
The Canadian recalls include feature 2009 to 2017 models from BMW, Ford, Hyundai, General Motors and Volkswagen. More than 90 per cent of these are from a May 2023 recall of more than 42,000 Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia SUV models from 2014 to 2017.
Transport Canada has published an extensive list of vehicles with driver-side ARC airbag inflators, which includes 1998 to 2017 models from major brands like BMW, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Fiat, Ford, Mercury, Lincoln, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Hummer, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn, Hyundai and Kia. These represent more than one in 10 registered vehicles.
In a previous statement, a Transport Canada spokesperson explained that the federal department “has no “direct authority over component suppliers like ARC Automotive Inc.”
“We are monitoring the situation here in Canada and in other countries,” a department spokesperson said Wednesday. “Transport Canada and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation have collaborated on this issue since 2016.”
With files from the Associated Press