For 3rd time, General Motors seeks to avoid Takata recalls

DETROIT (AP) — For the third time in the past three years, General Motors has asked the U.S. government for permission to avoid recalls of potentially deadly Takata air bag inflators.

The company disclosed its third petition to escape the recalls on Tuesday in a filing with securities regulators. The financial stakes are high. If the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lets GM out of the recalls, the company says it could save $1 billion and avoid recalling up to 6.8 million full-size pickup trucks and SUVs from the 2007 to 2011 model years.

Takata inflators can explode with too much force and hurl shrapnel into drivers and passengers. At least 22 people have been killed worldwide and more than 180 injured. The problem forced the Japanese company into bankruptcy protection and touched off the largest series of automotive recalls in U.S. history. Takata has agreed to recall up to 69 million inflators in the U.S. and 100 million worldwide.

Takata uses the chemical ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion and inflate air bags. But high humidity and hot temperatures can cause the chemical to deteriorate and burn too fast, blowing apart metal canisters designed to contain the explosion.

In its annual report posted by the Securities and Exchange Commission, GM said it filed recall paperwork and a petition to avoid the recalls with NHTSA on Jan. 9.

In the filing, GM says the front-passenger inflators were custom-made for its trucks by Takata with bigger vents and stronger steel end caps than other inflators. No truck inflators have blown apart on roads or in extensive laboratory testing, the company says.

GM disclosed that it hasn’t set aside money for the recalls, and if required to do them, “we estimate a reasonably possible impact to GM of approximately $1.0 billion,” the filing says. The company is in discussions with regulators outside the U.S. and continues to gather evidence and share its findings, according to the filing.

As part of a consent agreement with NHTSA in May of 2016, Takata agreed to recall all of its inflators that use explosive ammonium nitrate as a propellant but don’t have a moisture-absorbing chemical in them. The recalls are being phased in through 2020, with older vehicles in southern states getting top priority. Takata has filed recall paperwork for 2016, 2017 and this year declaring the inflators defective, including those made for GM trucks.

GM filed petitions seeking to avoid the recalls in November of 2016 and in January of 2017 , but NHTSA has yet to rule on them. Until it makes a decision, GM is not required to recall the trucks and SUVs. The agency gave GM until Aug. 31, 2017 to do research on the inflators.

The company has said it will design replacement inflators so it’s ready if NHTSA decides the recalls have to be done.

NHTSA, the government’s highway safety watchdog agency, said in a statement that it “is reviewing all of the relevant data and information regarding the pending GM petitions and will issue a decision as soon as possible.”

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