Airbags installed in 425,000 Kia and Hyundai vehicles are being investigated after the devices failed to deploy in crashes in which four people died and six others were injured.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began the investigation after airbags malfunctioned in six crashes involving four 2011 Hyundai Sonatas and two others in 2012 and 2013 Kia Fortes.
The NHTSA review began late last month after Hyundai notified the regulatory agency that “airbag control units showing that an electrical over-stress condition of an … electronic component occurred in three of the crashes.”
The NHTSA review stops short of a formal recall of the vehicles, although there is still possibility of one. Hyundai opted to pre-empt any formal federal action by unilaterally recalling 154,753 Sonatas from model year 2011.
Hyundai’s shares fell 3.8 per cent in Seoul, the biggest drop in more than two months. Kia lost 3.5 per cent, the most in more than six months.
“This is just the start of an investigation — we don’t know how much it will be expanded yet,” said Lee Hang-koo, a senior researcher at state-run Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade in Sejong City, South Korea. “It is surely bad news for Hyundai, which is already seeing sluggish sales in the U.S.”
Air bags already are linked to the largest car-related recall in US history, it led to 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 air bags with shrapnel, this latest probe involves devices that failed to deploy at all.