THE INVESTIGATORS: Automaker plans to fix recalled airbags after WAFB questions delay in the process

Updated: Nov. 30, 2020 at 4:37 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Years after the warnings first went out about the dangers of some Takata airbags, an automaker plans to move ahead with repairs to the airbags after the 9News Investigators started asking questions about the delay in the process.

We have all seen the videos of some faulty Takata airbags exploding and sending sharp pieces of metal flying everywhere, in some cases claiming lives. Takata first reported the issue with some of their airbags back in 2014. Two years later, Emerick Smith got a notice saying his 2008 Chevy Tahoe was affected.

”About a week or two after we got the notice, I took it to a GM dealer and that’s when I found out that they would not replace it then and I’ve been on hold ever since,” said Smith.

Four years later in 2020, when he checked on the recall again, Smith was given a notice from GM which told him the company would not replace the airbag because there was no remedy at this time. The manufacturer insisted the Tahoe is now safe to drive.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the driver if he was confused because nothing has been fixed on your car but now it’s considered safe to drive.

“Yes. It’s very confusing,” Smith said. “It’s confusing if back then in 2016 or 2014 when it actually was declared a safety hazard it was so important back in 2016 but why isn’t it so not important right now in 2020.”

Takata recalled about 63 million airbags since they first reported the issue and according to Flordia-based law firm Newsome-Melton, 24 people worldwide have lost their lives and another 240 have been seriously hurt because of the faulty airbags. Smith says it is too big a gamble to take with his wife of more than 50 years. WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Smith if he was scared that he is taking a gamble with his wife’s life every time they drive the vehicle.

“Yes. Most definitely,” he answered. “She most definitely is reluctant to ride in the front seat on the passenger side, yes.”WAFB reached out to GM to find out what is stalling the repair. In an email, a company spokesman said they filed a petition in January 2019 with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The spokesman issued the following statement:

“GM’s latest petition for inconsequentiality was filed in January 2019 and follows the previous petitions that we’ve filed with NHTSA that are publicly available on the NHTSA docket. Given the scope of the engineering analysis and inflator aging studies performed by Northrop Grumman and our own safety and engineering experts, as detailed in the petitions and exhibits we’ve filed with NHTSA, we are confident that the inflators in the GMT900 vehicles (that includes the 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe) 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.”

Days after the 9News Investigators started asking questions at NHTSA, that agency denied GM’s petition saying the manufacturer now has 30 days to come up with a proposed schedule to replace the airbags. A spokesman with NHTSA released the following statement.

NHTSA has denied General Motors’ petition for inconsequentiality regarding Takata air bags, which will compel GM to recall and repair passenger air bags in approximately 5.9 million vehicles. All Takata phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate (PSAN) inflators without a desiccant are under recall.

“NHTSA conducted a thorough analysis of all available data provided on these air bags, including engineering and statistical analyses, field data, ballistic tests, and an inflator aging study. Based on this information and information provided to the petition’s public docket, NHTSA concluded that the GM inflators in question are at risk of the same type of explosion after long-term exposure to high heat and humidity as other recalled Takata inflators. Such explosions have caused injuries and deaths. GM now has 30 days to provide the agency with a proposed schedule for the notification of vehicle owners and the launch of a remedy.”

The air bag inflators at issue are non-desiccated Takata PSAN passenger-side air bag inflators installed in the following Model Year 2007-2014 vehicles:

  • Cadillac Escalade
  • Cadillac Escalade ESV
  • Cadillac Escalade EXT
  • Chevrolet Avalanche
  • Chevrolet Silverado 1500
  • Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500
  • Chevrolet Suburban
  • Chevrolet Tahoe
  • GMC Sierra 1500
  • GMC Sierra 2500/3500
  • GMC Yukon
  • GMC Yukon XL

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Smith if he was optimistic that the manufacturer would come to some sort of resolution quickly.

“Not likely,” Smith said. “It’s been four years and I’ve been hassling them every year or every three or four months and that don’t seem to work either so I don’t believe that they will come up with a remedy to repair that, which is sad.”Smith says he just wants this to be over and he wants to have peace of mind that he and his wife’s lives aren’t in danger every time they take a drive.”That’s all I want,” he said. “I want it repaired.”WAFB reached out to GM after their petition to NHTSA was denied to verify whether they would comply with the order. A spokesman said they would work to make the repairs even though they did not agree with the decision. They issued the following statement:

“The safety and trust of those who drive our vehicles is at the forefront of everything we do at General Motors. Although we believe a recall of these vehicles is not warranted based on the factual and scientific record, NHTSA has directed that we replace the airbag inflators in the vehicles in question. Based on data generated through independent scientific evaluation conducted over several years, we disagree with NHTSA’s position. However, we will abide by NHTSA’s decision and begin taking the necessary steps.”

Anyone who wants to check to see if their vehicle falls under the current recall can enter their VIN number in the NHTSA recall checker tool by clicking here.

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