WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. safety regulators announced their investigation of automobile airbag inflators manufactured by American firm ARC Automotive, raising the possibility of another recall similar to the roiling Takata scandal.
Inflators made by ARC were involved in two exploding airbags incidents on older model Chryslers and Kias, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a post on its website.
The NHTSA said it opened the investigation on Monday of ARC airbag inflators installed on 490,000 vehicles: 420,000 model-year 2002 Chrysler Town & Country minivans and 70,000 model-year 2004 Kia Optimas.
There were no fatalities linked to the two airbag explosions, which can send deadly shrapnel into the vehicle’s occupants, but two injuries were reported, according to the posting.
The agency received a complaint in December about a 2009 incident in Ohio of a driver’s-side airbag rupture on a Chrysler minivan.
After contacting Fiat Chrysler Automobiles about the problem and looking for similar incidents, the NHTSA said it had determined that it was an isolated event.
However, in June, South Korean automaker Kia informed the agency of a lawsuit alleging a 2014 rupture in a driver’s side airbag in New Mexico.
“At the present time, it is unknown if there is a common root cause in these incidents,” the NHTSA said, adding that it had opened the investigation to collect facts from the involved suppliers and vehicle manufacturers.
The affected Chrysler vehicles’ airbag was made by Key Safety Systems, while that for the Kia was made by Delphi.
The inflator in the bags in both incidents was made by ARC, based in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The investigation comes amid the widening scandal over Japanese firm Takata’s defective airbags, which have been linked to eight deaths and more than 100 injuries around the world.
Ten global automakers, including General Motors, Honda and BMW, are being forced to recall 34 million cars inside the United States alone — and more than 40 million around the world to replace the inflators — the biggest recall in U.S. history.
“Problems with a second airbag component manufacturer could cause automakers big headaches, since there are so few suppliers of airbags and airbag components as it is,” said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at AutoTrader. “For consumers, it could slow the recall repairs even more with such a limited supply base.”
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015