Chrysler Expands Airbag Recall, But NHTSA Calls It 'insufficient'

UPDATED: 12/4/14 3:38 pm ET - adds Mazda recall

DETROIT -- Chrysler Group said it will expand its recall of about 149,000 pickup trucks in 12 U.S. states and territories to include passenger-side airbag inflators, made by supplier Takata Corp., to address concerns about improper deployments.

But hours after the company made the announcement, the nation’s top vehicle safety agency called the expansion “insufficient,” setting up yet another tussle between the Detroit automaker and regulators with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Chrysler’s move announced Wednesday was a slight expansion of its previously announced regional involving more vehicles with Takata drivers’ side airbag inflators in high-humidity states and U.S. territories.

Chrysler said it is unaware of any related injuries or accidents involving these inflators in the pickups, all 2003 model year Dodge Ram 1500, 2500 or 3500s. The company also said it has not “observed any failures in laboratory testing of its air-bag modules.”

NHTSA action

NHTSA said in a statement that Chrysler’s expansion is inadequate and that it could push the automaker to recall additional vehicles.

“Chrysler’s latest recall is insufficient, doesn’t meet our demands, and fails to include all inflators covered by Takata's defect information report,” the agency said in a statement. NHTSA will determine next steps and take appropriate actions to ensure Chrysler acts to protect its customers.”

Spokesmen for Chrysler did not respond to emails Wednesday evening seeking comment on NHTSA’s characterization of the company’s recall expansion.

David Friedman, deputy director of NHTSA, told reporters about Chrysler’s expanded recall earlier today after a U.S. Congressional hearing on problems with Takata airbags in older vehicles sold by at least 10 automakers.

The inflators used in the Ram pickups have been linked to two failures in vehicles produced by other automakers. In these incidents, which occurred in Puerto Rico and southern Florida, airbag deployment was accompanied by component ruptures, the automaker said in a written statement.

The expansion will cover 2003 Dodge Ram 1500, 2500 or 3500 sold or ever registered in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands.

Recall details

However, Chrysler’s expanded recall only covers Ram pickups and one type of inflator from Takata, the agency said. It excluded several other vehicles that were part of the automaker’s initial recall for passenger-side Takata inflators in vehicles sold or registered in Florida, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Those vehicles included the 2004-2008 Dodge Durango, 2007-2008 Chrysler Aspen, 2005-2008 Chrysler 300 and 2005-2008 Dodge Dakota pickup.

NHTSA instructed Chrysler to include those vehicles in an expanded campaign covering additional states along the Gulf of Mexico.

Chrysler Group said it plans to notify affected Dodge Ram customers about the passenger side airbag recall beginning Jan. 19, 2015. Letters will advise when they may schedule service, which will be provided at no charge.

Chrysler’s safety committee met Tuesday. The automaker said today that it continues to study the ongoing airbag inflator issue “with great urgency. At this time, data analysis indicates the front passenger-side inflators in the affected pickups represent the only additional risk outside the above-mentioned areas. The inflators are of a type that is not used in any of the other vehicles affected by Chrysler Group’s regional field action.”

The automaker has so far resisted some calls to broaden its regional airbag recall nationally.

Ford recall expanded

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co. also said it will expand its U.S. recall of vehicles with Takata passenger-side airbags.

The recall adds about 13,000 vehicles in humid states and U.S. territories, bringing to 98,000 the total number of Ford vehicles being recalled for issues related to Takata airbags, the company said in a statement on Wednesday.

Takata acknowledged earlier in the day that it still does not understand what is causing airbag explosions in a global safety scandal that has involved the recall of more than 16 million cars worldwide and been linked to at least five fatalities.

Ford will recall certain 2004-2005 Ford Ranger and 2005-2006 Ford GTs sold in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It also includes certain areas with high humidity within Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Guam, Saipan and American Samoa.

Today, Mazda also expanded its regional replacement campaign for passenger-side airbags in older model Mazda6 sedans, Mazdaspeed6 sedans, RX-8 sports cars, B-Series pickups and the MPV. The expansion now covers Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Saipan, Guam and American Samoa. Mazda initially recalled the affected vehicles only in Florida, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

A total of 86,773 Mazda vehicles are now covered by the regional campaign following the expansion, up from about 46,600 initially.

It was not immediately clear if NHTSA would challenge the Ford or Mazda recalls as it did with Chrysler.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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