Anyone who drives a car is probably aware of the Takata airbag scandal. Prior to 2013, Japan’s Takata Corporation was a major manufacturer of motor vehicle parts and accessories, and produced about 20% of all airbags worldwide.
In 2013, several auto manufacturers began to initiate recalls of vehicles with Takata airbags in them. Honda claimed to know of 100 injuries and eight deaths which had resulted from the defective exploding airbags. Some media reports stated the airbags were suspected to have been defective for a decade.
While the Takata airbag recall started with only a few million vehicles, it expanded and kept on expanding, and resulted in criminal charges against the company, eventually forcing it into a well-deserved bankruptcy. Currently, recalled vehicles in the United States total 37 million according to the NHTSA, with a total of 65-70 million affected airbags. The most recent round of recalls occurred in Australia with an additional 2.3 million vehicles recalled in February.
Given how high profile the Takata airbag recalls were and are, I am sure Hyundai and Kia owners can’t help but feel a little nervous when seeing the NHTSA is now investigating those companies for defective airbags:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation Friday into problems with air bags in Hyundai and Kia vehicles. NHTSA says it is currently aware of six crashes in which air bags failed to deploy. The crashes led to four deaths and six injuries.
The models being investigated are 2011 Hyundai Sonatas and 2012 and 2013 Kia Fortes, according to a document posted on the NHTSA website. The scope of the probe includes an estimated 425,000 vehicles.
Four of the crashes in question involved Hyundai vehicles and two of the crashes involved Kia vehicles, the document states. According to a statement from Hyundai spokesperson Jim Trainor, the company knows of “three rare and unique accidents where airbag control circuitry was confirmed to be damaged, and a fourth accident is under investigation.”
The specific concern with the air bags is an electrical overstress condition (EOS), which happens when an electronic device experiences a current or voltage beyond its specified limit. In this case, according to the NHTSA document, the device affected air bag control units supplied by the auto part manufacturer ZF-TRW. The air bag control units in the Hyundai models detect collisions, control the deployment of air bags and can also tighten seat belts in anticipation of a crash. The NHTSA document says the agency understands the 2012 and 2013 Kia Fortes being investigated also used similar ZF-TRW-supplied air bag control units.
Hyundai was already aware of problems with air bag control units as of Feb. 27, when the company filed a defect information report that led to a recall of 154,751 model-year 2011 Hyundai Sonatas. Trainor confirmed to NPR that the NHTSA investigation opened yesterday is directly related to this recall, and Hyundai will notify all affected vehicle-owners about further recalls by April 20. A spokesperson for Kia could not be reached for comment.
I guess the reader can take some comfort in that at least these airbags aren’t exploding!