More manufacturing defects with replacements airbags, giving rise to products liability claims, have required an automotive replacement parts corporation to issue yet another recall, affecting as many as 230,000 vehicles. The vehicles affected by BMW AG’s most recent recall had replacement airbags manufactured by Petri, a German company owned by Takata Corp., installed after a crash. The inflators used, called the Takata PSDI-4 inflators, can explode in a crash—even one at low speed—and spray those occupying the vehicle with metal shards. These regulators are filled with ammonium nitrate, an explosive chemical with power similar to dynamite. If the chemical degrades over time, the airbags can deploy with so much force that the metal casings are destroyed, sending the metal shards into the unsuspecting vehicle occupants. Around 14,600 of these inflators were shipped to the U.S. between 2002 and 2015 for replacement use. This recall is one of the largest recalls in motor vehicle history, due in part to the 17 deaths these vehicles have caused worldwide and brought to the forefront by products liability lawyers. In the U.S. alone, these airbags have been linked to 11 deaths and 180 injures. Several vehicle drivers and passengers have sued Takata claiming injuries from the metal shrapnel. The Center for Auto Safety’s executive director, Michael Brooks, has said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) should investigate whether these airbags were used by other vehicle manufacturers. This is needed, as the airbags may have been used by a dozen or more car manufacturers, including Honda, GM, and Volkswagen. BMW already has vehicles with defective airbags under recall, bringing the total to over 1.5 million cars. The car models affected by this most recent recall are some 2001-2002 X5 SUVs, 2000-2002 3 Series, and 2001-2005 5 Series models.
Takata Corp. has also recently entered into an agreement to plead guilty in an investigation by the DOJ concerning the exploding airbags. This settlement comes with a $1 billion payment. Of the $1 billion payment, $25 million will go to the U.S. and $975 million will be paid as restitution to carmakers and those injured by the airbags. Specifically, Takata’s settlement means it will admit to misleading industry regulators, car manufacturers, and ultimately the consumers about the safety of the replacement airbags. This settlement also means Takata will be independently monitored for compliance for the next three years. The recall tied to the airbags has already plagued the corporation and is expected to surpass 100 million. Just two years ago, the corporation signed an agreement to pay a $70 million fine to U.S. regulators because of selective, inaccurate, and incomplete information provided concerning the airbag regulators. The NHTSA has said that this fine could rise to $200 million if the corporation does not finish the recalls within three years. This process will be long and arduous for Takata, as there are approximately 46 million recalled airbag inflators in 29 million vehicles in the U.S. alone. This number could rise over the next three years, affecting as many as 42 million consumer vehicles and 69 million inflators.
Volkswagen is experiencing similar recall problems, issuing a recall affecting hundreds of thousands of Audi models. These recalls stem from two airbag defects and overheating coolant pumps. One of the airbag recalls affects approximately 234,054 Audi Q5 models from 2011 to 2017. This recall stems from a sunroof drainage issue which can corrode the airbag’s inflator canister causing it to rupture and spray the vehicle occupants with metal shards. The second airbag recall affects 5,901 Audi and Volkswagen cars from 2017 and 2018 Audi A4, A6, A7, Volkswagen Golf, e-Golf, and Tiguan models. These airbags may not deploy properly. These models may also experience issues with the seat-belt pretensioners, the device designed to pull a seat belt tight in a crash, not working properly.