Volkswagen Recalling Popular Model to Replace Dangerous Airbags

Volkswagen is recalling nearly 40,000 Beetles with Takata airbags out of ‘an abundance of caution.’

In 1968, the Volkswagen Beetle was the best-selling car in the world.

In that same tumultuous year, when Apollo 8 circled the moon and Boeing’s  (BA) – Get Free Report 747 first took to the air, Disney  (DIS) – Get Free Report released The Love Bug, which featured the Beetle Herbie in the title role.

The rather odd-looking rear-engine economy car had come a long way from the dark days of Hitler’s Germany, when the das Fuhrer himself demanded a “people’s car” and laid the cornerstone for the Volkswagen factory in 1938.

But even the Beetle couldn’t go on forever and the last model was produced in 2019 at VW’s factory in Puebla, Mexico.

A Volkswagen marketing executive explained to TheStreet that customers were leaning away from coups and smaller cars and more towards electric vehicles and SUVs.

Beetles are still on the road, however, and now nearly 40,000 of them have been caught up in a recall involving the deadly Takata airbags, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Since 2009, at least 33 people worldwide, including 24 in the United States, have been killed by the exploding airbags.

The agency said in a filing that 37,558 Beetles are being recalled, noting that 100% are believed to feature ammonium nitrate-filled airbag inflators manufactured by Takata.

VW Acting ‘Out of Abundance of Caution’

The recall covers Beetles from the 2015 and 2016 model years. Volkswagen said that it isn’t aware of any filed claims or warranty reports relating to this issue, but is recalling the vehicles “out of abundance of caution.”

Takata used ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion to inflate airbags in a crash. The chemical can deteriorate over time when exposed to high temperatures and humidity.

“The driver side airbag inflator may explode due to propellant degradation occurring after long term exposure to high absolute humidity, high temperatures and high temperature cycling,” the filing said.

 An inflator explosion may result in sharp metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants, resulting in serious injury or death, NHTSA said.

The Beetle airbags have a moisture-absorbing chemical that can slow the ammonium nitrate deterioration. 

However, the automaker and the U.S. government reached an agreement in 2020 to recall 105,652 Beetles.

Authorized dealers in the U.S. will be informed of the latest recall on or before Feb. 17. Dealers will replace the driver’s airbag in the Beetles. 

The NHTSA confirmed another Takata rupture death on Dec. 19, bringing the total number of Takata fatalities confirmed this year to five.

The agency said one person died in a recent crash in a 2010 Chrysler 300 where the Takata driver’s side airbag inflator ruptured. 

Airbags Still Claiming Victims

“It is imperative that ALL vehicle owners check now for open Takata recalls, and get the repair done as soon as possible if their vehicle is under recall,” the agency said in a statement

Stellantis said last month that two deaths were caused by the airbags and suspected the inflators had caused another. 

The company confirmed the third death on Dec. 19 and “strongly reiterated” its previous warning to owners to have their vehicles repaired.

“This holiday season, don’t let yourself or someone you love be at risk of dying or being seriously injured because of a defective, recalled Takata airbag,” NHTSA Acting Administrator Ann Carlson said in a statement. “These repairs are absolutely free and could save your life. Airbag ruptures have also cost people their eyesight and left them with disfiguring facial injuries.” 

Takata admitted that its Mexican subsidiary had mishandled the manufacture of explosive propellants and improperly stored chemicals used in the airbags.

The company filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and was acquired by Key Safety Systems, which later changed its name to Joyson Safety Systems. With headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., the company is a subsidiary of Ningbo Joyson Electronic Corp.

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