A US regulator has ordered General Motors to recall nearly 6m trucks and sport-utility vehicles fitted with the same Takata airbags that have killed more than two dozen people with exploding shrapnel.
GM, which had fought the recall for four years, said the ruling would cost it $1.2bn in total, and it expects to make a $400m cash outlay next year.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the airbags in GM models including the Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Sierra posed the same hazards as Takata airbags in other vehicles. The airbags are inflated by a propellant that can degrade over time and with heat and humidity, causing the metal canister holding it to explode into the passenger compartment.
“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,” the regulator said in its ruling.
GM said it did not think a recall was warranted “based on the factual and scientific record”.
It said: “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.”
The decision is a blow for the Detroit carmaker, which is trying to regain momentum after shutting factories in the spring because of Covid-19 and move forward with significant investments in electric vehicles.
The Takata recalls are “the largest and most complex in US history”, the NHTSA said, affecting 19 carmakers, more than 60m Takata airbags and tens of millions of US vehicles. Takata filed for bankruptcy.
Twelve GM models use the airbags without also using a chemical agent that keeps them dry enough to counteract problems from degradation.
But GM has argued since 2016 that it should not have to recall the vehicles since design differences in GM’s models reduced the risk of an explosion, and since the physical environment inside its vehicles “better protects the front-passenger [airbag] inflator from the extreme temperature cycling that can cause inflator rupture”.
More than 300 public comments were posted on the agency’s website about the dispute, most expressing concern about the safety of the vehicles or dismay over their diminished resale value.
One commenter who called herself “Worried Mother”, wrote: “This is absolutely ridiculous to wait for something horrible to happen before reacting. You know the airbags are defective, do what is right!”
GM now has 30 days to give the US regulator a proposed schedule to notify vehicle owners and launch a remedy.