Yet Another Airbag Recall Will Affect Five Million

In a case that echoes the Takata airbag recalls, automakers including Honda and Fiat Chrysler will recall about five million vehicles worldwide to fix a defect in an airbag component known for years but left unaddressed.

Continental Automotive Systems, the German supplier that manufactures electronic components that control car airbags, has been aware of a defect in some units since January 2008, according to a filing with federal safety regulators made public on Thursday.

Semiconductors inside the unit could corrode, causing the airbags to deploy inadvertently or fail to deploy at all, Continental said.

Once Continental knew of the problem, it informed automakers, said Mary Arraf, a spokeswoman for the supplier. She said it was up to carmakers to issue a recall.

Continental then quietly fixed the problem, adopting remedies by March 2008. It did not alert regulators of the defect at the time.

Automakers have linked at least nine injuries to the defect.

Under federal law, once a manufacturer is aware of a safety problem, it must, within five business days, inform regulators of its plans for a recall or face civil penalties.

Mazda and Volvo Trucks may also carry the defective control unit, but have not yet issued recalls. Mazda said it was investigating. Volvo Trucks could not immediately be reached for comment. The N.H.T.S.A did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The manufacturers’ handling of the defect follows a pattern of delays within the auto industry in disclosing and addressing safety defects, said Byron Bloch, an independent auto safety expert based in Potomac, Md.

“The pattern is conceal, delay, deny,” he said. “Ten years ago, six years ago, this should have been detected, before they were put into cars. But now we have to recall millions of vehicles.”

In a similar case, Honda was alerted to a possible defect in its airbags, made by the Japanese supplier Takata, as early as 2004. But Honda and Takata did not alert regulators, viewing it as an anomaly, and waited four years before issuing a recall of just 4,000 vehicles.

That defect, which can cause airbags to rupture violently and eject debris when they deploy, has now been linked to at least 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries. So far, 14 automakers have recalled an estimated 24 million vehicles to fix the defect, and many millions more possibly defective airbags remain in cars on the road.

In the Continental case, the N.H.T.S.A. opened an inquiry into the defect last August, after an accident in a 2008 Honda Accord three years ago that was the subject of a lawsuit. Continental analyzed the control unit and determined it was malfunctioning, according to its filing.

The first report of the problem came when an owner of a Daimler vehicle complained of an airbag warning light that remained illuminated in January 2008, according to Continental’s filing. The supplier studied the unit and, after determining that it was malfunctioning, sent it to the semiconductor manufacturer, Atmel, for further analysis.

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In March of that year, Atmel determined that corrosion of the semiconductor could lead it to swell, interrupting electrical connections. It then executed two countermeasures to prevent or reduce the likelihood of corrosion. Daimler eventually issued a recall over the defect outside the United States, in 2013.

Ms. Arraf said the supplier did not know how many of those five million vehicles are in the United States but it “potentially is less than two million.”

She said the company was aware of about 500 consumer claims related to the defect, but added that “the vast majority” were because the airbag malfunction light illuminated, not because the airbag either failed to work or deployed inadvertently.

Fiat Chrysler said in a regulatory filing that it now knows Continental fixed the part in 2008 but did not change the part number, so the automaker was not aware of the improvements.

On Thursday, Fiat Chrysler said it would recall about 112,000 2008-9 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans, as well as the 2009 Dodge Journey and Volkswagen Routan, which the automaker made for Volkswagen. It said it was aware of “seven potentially related injuries, all minor.”

Honda said it would recall about 341,000 Accords from the 2009 and 2010 model years. It told federal regulators it was aware of two “confirmed injuries” and allegations of 74 others linked to the safety defect.

In December, Mercedes-Benz recalled about 126,000 of its 2008-9 C-Class and 2010 GLK-Class for the problem.

Meanwhile, Kia, initially named in Continental’s filing, said the supplier had done so in error. None of the Kia cars identified by Continental should have been included in the recall, Kia said. Continental confirmed that.

Mazda and Volvo have not yet announced recalls. A Mazda spokeswoman said the company was aware of Continental’s filing, but was still investigating.

According to its website, Continental, based in Hannover, Germany, makes automotive safety equipment, including airbag electronics. In 2015, Continental, which employs more than 208,000 people in 53 countries, booked sales of 39.2 billion euros, or $43.92 billion.

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