Ford to Seek Government Exemption from Air Bag Recall

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Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) will file a petition with the federal government requesting an exemption from a  recall of vehicles equipped with defective Takata air bag inflators. Other automakers affected by the recall are Nissan and Mazda.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Friday said it had received new information from the three automakers regarding a recall of some 2.7 million Takata air bag inflators earlier this month. The agency said the inflators could “pose a potential safety risk if not replaced.”

Based on the new information, Nissan has recalled 515,394 model years 2007 to 2011 Versa Sedans and 2007 to 2012 Versa Hatchbacks equipped with the inflators. The numbers of Ford and Mazda vehicles that may be affected were not specified.

Both Ford and Mazda have informed the NHTSA of their intention to file for an exemption. According to the agency:

“[That] is their legal right. The automakers must submit a petition of inconsequential defect and supporting data within 30 days.  Once received, the petition would become publicly available on regulations.gov for comment. After considering the merits of the petition, which is standard practice for all petitions, the agency would publish a final decision.”

The inflators subject to this latest recall were produced by Takata between 2005 and 2012 and used a drying agent (desiccant) containing calcium sulfate. According to the Nissan recall notice:

“[S]ome of the Nissan inflators analyzed within the population show a pattern of propellant density reduction over time that may predict a future risk of inflator rupture. Based upon Takata’s investigation to date, the potential for such ruptures may occur in some of the subject inflators after several years of exposure to persistent conditions of high absolute humidity.”

Takata evaluated 895 Nissan air bags and reported no ruptures and only one inflator that exhibited “elevated internal pressure during deployment testing.” If the inflator should rupture, metal fragments could pass through the air bag’s cushion material, resulting in injury or death to the vehicle’s driver or passengers.

A Ford spokesman told CNBC that its petition asks for time to “continue testing and analyzing our inflators.”

Takata, the focus of the auto industry’s biggest ever product recall, filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States and Japan in June, the largest bankruptcy of a Japanese manufacturer.