Safety regulators in the US are investigating airbags in certain Hyundai and Kia vehicles that failed to deploy in frontal collisions linked to four deaths and six injuries.
As many as 425,000 automobiles made by the South Korean manufacturers could be affected, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a report on its Web site.
The agency is investigating whether vehicles made by other carmakers could also be at risk, it said.
The crashes involve Hyundai Sonatas and Sonata hybrids made in 2011, as well as Kia Forte and Kia Forte Koups made in 2012 and 2013. Hyundai on Feb. 27 recalled almost 155,000 Sonatas, after determining that an electrical overstress failed to inflate the airbags during collisions. Hyundai is looking into the product supplier, ZF-TRW, for a possible cause for the electrical problem.
Airbags are already linked to the largest and most complex auto-related recall in US history — the one that ultimately led Japan’s Takata Corp to seek court protection from creditors after its devices were linked to at least 17 deaths. Unlike the Takata situation, which involved exploding airbags with shrapnel, the latest probe involves devices that failed to deploy at all.
The agency said it would work to determine whether any other automakers use airbag control units that are the same or similar to those supplied by ZF-TRW and whether those units behave the same way in similar crashes. A safety expert said that is critical to determining how widespread the problem is.
“If there is a component in the module that is used by other systems as well, that number could increase significantly,” Keith Friedman, automotive safety researcher at Friedman Research Corp in Austin, Texas, said on the telephone on Sunday. “If it has to do with the way this particular module has been manufactured, it could be localized to these particular vehicles.”
The Korean companies said they are cooperating in the probe.
Hyundai Motor Co is “announcing this recall now to ensure the safety of our customers,” the company said in a statement.
Kia Motors Corp said it would work closely with the agency, including monitoring crash reports and conducting more crash tests as needed.
ZF TRW was formed when closely held German company ZF Friedrichshafen AG in 2015 bought US-based TRW Automotive Holdings Corp for more than US$12 billion.
Takata last month agreed to pay as much as US$650 million to settle claims in 44 US states and the District of Columbia for defective airbags that can explode in car crashes, sending metal shards flying.
In the largest recall operation in history, the company has recalled millions of airbags that had been linked to the deaths and spurred lawsuits leading to more than US$1 billion in settlements from automakers including Honda Motor Co, Toyota Motor Corp, Subaru Corp, Mazda Motor Corp Nissan Motor Co and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG.
Last week, US consumers filed class-action complaints in a Miami US federal court to recover costs against units of General Motors and Volkswagen, as well as Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.
The complaints allege that the automakers deceived the public about the defects and associated dangers.
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