In March, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched an investigation into why airbags in some Hyundai and Kia cars failed to inflate during six crashes. The wrecks caused four fatalities and six injuries. Two of the deaths occurred in head-on collisions at high rates of speed. All were frontal crashes.
The NHTSA is investigating the Korean-made 2011 Hyundai Sonatas and the 2012 and 2013 Kia Fortes. This could affect approximately 425,000 vehicles currently on the road. The agency also said it will determine if any other manufacturers used similar air bag control units and if they posed a safety risk. The NHTSA document says the Office of Defects Investigation is already aware of a previous recall in which the airbag control units of certain Fiat Chrysler vehicles also seemed to experience electrical overstress condition.
Of the six motor vehicle crashes, four involved the Hyundai cars and two involved the Kia vehicles. Hyundai spokesman Jim Trainor said, the company knows of “three rare and unique accidents where airbag control circuitry was confirmed to be damaged, and a fourth accident is under investigation. We are working on getting the fix as fast as we can.”
Suspected problems with the airbags
Investigators are concerned about an electrical overstress condition (EOS) that can occur when an electronic device experiences a current or voltage beyond its specified and capable limitations.
According to the NHTSA document released about the current probe, the device affected airbag control units supplied to Hyundai by the auto part manufacturer ZF Friedrichshafen-TRW, a German auto supplier that acquired TRW Automotive Holdings Corp in 2015. The control units of the airbag in the Hyundai vehicles detect collisions, control the deployment of airbags and can also tighten seat belts in anticipation of a crash.
The NHTSA document says the 2012 and 2013 Kia Fortes being investigated used similar ZF-TRW-supplied airbag control units. However, Kia Motors Corporation stated it has “carefully monitored the quality and safety performance” of these vehicles, adding that they are not aware of any airbags failing to deploy because of the potential chip issue. Kia has yet to issue a recall at the time of the writing.
Previous Hyundai airbag recall in February related
Hyundai Motor Company filed a defect information report leading to the recall in February of 154,751 2011 Hyundai Sonatas. They blamed the problem on short circuits. Apparently, this recall is related to the latest one issued. Hyundai is to notify all potentially affected owners of the latest recall before the end of April.
Hyundai’s and Kia’s past problems
This is certainly not the first time Hyundai and Kia have come to the attention of the NHTSA.
- Hyundai was fined $17.35 million in 2014 for delaying the recall of 43,500 Genesis cars over a brake defect.
- Both companies paid a $100 million civil penalty and $250 million in punitive damages after overestimating the gas mileage on 1.2 vehicles. The Justice Department said the settlement was no only the largest civil penalty in the Clean Air Act history, but was unprecedented.
- Engine defects were the focus of a 2017 investigation that led to the recall of nearly 1.7 million vehicles manufactured by Hyundai and Kia.
Hyundai purchased Kia, after the latter filed for bankruptcy in 2007. Nonetheless, Kia, according to Hyundai’s website, “still operates independently” with distinct and separate design, marketing and branding divisions.
Group Matrix Blog – April 4, 2018 – by Sharon Bowles