Recalls

NHTSA orders GM to recall 7 million trucks, SUVs after 4-year Takata airbag-related battle

The Chevrolet Suburban is just one of the models caught up in the recall.

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

No automaker wants to have to recall its vehicles. But, they do so willingly (most of the time) in order to prevent a larger problem from presenting itself. Sometimes the repairs are immediately needed, like when there's an imminent fire risk, while other times they seem like they can be put off a bit, like when a sticker needs to be replaced on a door jamb. No matter the recall, buyers should act as soon as they receive notice of a recall on their vehicle.

Today, it was announced that approximately 7 million SUVs and trucks would be part of a recall regarding Takata airbag inflators. GM has been fighting the recall for four years.

In a statement, General Motors said:

"The safety and trust of those who drive our vehicles is at the forefront of everything we do at General Motors. Although we believe a recall of these vehicles is not warranted based on the factual and scientific record, NHTSA has directed that we replace the airbag inflators in the vehicles in question. Based on data generated through independent scientific evaluation conducted over several years, we disagree with NHTSA's position. However, we will abide by NHTSA's decision and begin taking the necessary steps."

The recall is part of a larger Takata airbag recall that has affected over 60 million Takata air bag inflators in tens of millions of vehicles in the United States alone.

To date, 18 people have been killed by rupturing Takata inflators in the U.S. The inflators have also caused hundreds of injuries, including lacerations and other serious injuries to occupants' face, neck, and chest areas.

The Takata airbag recall was initiated in 2015 when the company entered into a Consent Order with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognizing there was an issue with inflators installed in vehicles across 12 different automakers. A Coordinated Remedy was initiated that prioritized and phased the Takata recalls by vehicles most at risk to least at risk.

The automaker has been fighting the recall since shortly after the defect information report (DIR) was submitted, in May 2016. At that time, GM asked that the NHTSA defer its decision on the inconsequentiality of the inflators used by the company until GM was able to complete its testing and engineering analysis in August 2017. That request was granted due to the extraordinary circumstances of the recall.

GM and the NHTSA went back and forth with testing results and clarifications through 2018. A second DIR was filed by Takata in 2017, which triggered another filing by GM, this time a petition for exemption. The process repeated in 2018 and 2019, with GM looking to exempt all but a few of their models from the recall.

Those vehicles are "GMT900" models that contain "SPI YP" and "PSPI-L YD" inflator variants. The GMT900 is a General Motors-specific platform that underpins a number of light- and heavy-duty pickup trucks and SUVs including: Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, Chevrolet Silverado 2500/3500, GMC Sierra 2500/3500, Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Suburban, Chevrolet Avalanche, GMC Yukon, GMC Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade, Cadillac Escalade ESV, and Cadillac Escalade EXT. The petition involves approximately 5.9 million model year 2007–2014 vehicles.

GM undertook a number of weathering, aging, and safety tests as part of its research into the recall. Those results were then submitted to the NHTSA.

According to the filing released this week regarding the petitions, a manufacturer does not have a "statutory obligation to conduct a recall for a defect unless and until it 'learns the vehicle or equipment contains a defect and decides in good faith that the defect is related to motor vehicle safety,' or NHTSA orders a recall by making a 'final decision that a motor vehicle or replacement equipment contains a defect related to motor vehicle safety.'"

It is because of this, that the NHTSA says that, "a manufacturer bears a heavy burden in petitioning NHTSA to determine that a defect related to motor vehicle safety (which necessarily involves an unreasonable risk of an accident, or death or injury in an accident) is nevertheless inconsequential to motor vehicle safety. In accordance with the plain meaning of 'inconsequential,' the manufacturer must show that a risk posed by a defect is not important or capable of being ignored."

GM was up against a steep hill to begin with. Of the three known occasions in which the NHTSA has previously considered petitions contending that a defect is inconsequential to motor vehicle safety, the Agency has granted only one of the petitions. That action occurred nearly three decades ago, in what the Agency refers to as "a vastly different set of circumstances".

GM submitted thousands of pages of research and context to the NHTSA in support of their case as well as supporting testimony from an engineer who is an expert in airbag construction and safety.

Despite the efforts, the NHTSA determined that GM has not demonstrated that the defect is inconsequential to safety in the GMT900 vehicles. A number of reasons were given for the determination including that GM was unable to identify how the unique construction of the inflators in their vehicles made them less prone to rupture, how solar-insulating glass in the large cabin of the vehicles was decreasing the environmental impact on the inflators, and the small sample size of the inflators tested (just 0.07 percent of the total GMT900 population). GM also argued that replacing the inflators exposed owners to risk due to the possibility of improper dealership installation of the replacement inflator.

In its final decision, the NHTA said,

"The defect here poses an unsafe condition caused by the degradation of an important component of a safety device that is designed to protect vehicle occupants in crashes. Instead of protecting occupants, this propellant degradation can lead to an uncontrolled explosion of the inflator and propel sharp metal fragments toward occupants in a manner that can cause serious injury, including lacerations to the face, neck and chest, and even death. This unsafe condition—hidden in an air bag module—is not discernible even by a diligent vehicle owner, let alone an average owner.

"Moreover, nineteen manufacturers (including GM for other populations of their vehicles) have conducted similar recalls of other non-desiccated PSAN inflators. NHTSA has been offered no persuasive reason to think that without a recall, even if current owners are aware of the defect and instant petition, subsequent owners of vehicles equipped with GMT900 air bag inflators would be made aware of the issue.226 This is not the type of defect for which notice alone enables an owner to avoid the safety risk. A remedy is required."

Within 30 days of the date of this decision (November 20, 2020), GM shall submit to NHTSA a proposed schedule for the notification of GMT900 vehicle owners and the launch of a remedy required to fulfill those obligations.

To find out if your vehicle is part of a recall, visit https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls.

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No, it didn't snow in June.

GMC

Testing trucks is always fun. Well, to be honest, testing any vehicle is fun and is absolutely a privilege, but I absolutely love putting trucks through their paces. My most recent tester was the 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4, a factory off-road model with style and substance. Let's take a look at what makes it tick.

Off-Road-Ready Truck With a Stout Powertrain

Key upgrades here include a two-inch factory lift kit with Rancho Monotube Shocks, Goodyear Mud-Terrain tires mounted on 20-inch wheels, a two-speed automatic transfer case, and a traction select system with off-road and towing settings.

The net effect of all that gear is impressive. The AT4 rides as smoothly as many crossovers and maneuvers with relative ease for a truck its size. In town, there's little distinction in driving manners between this beefy off-road pickup truck and most family haulers, as long as being taller than nearly everyone else in traffic is ok with you. The truck handles well, and exhibits little instability over bumps at speed, which is a common challenge with pickup trucks and off-road vehicles.

My test truck was equipped with the optional 3.0-liter Duramax turbodiesel and a ten-speed automatic gearbox. With 277 horsepower and a stout 460 pound-feet of torque, it's the perfect companion for a truck meant to climb over and out of gnarly obstacles on the trails. In daily driving scenarios, the engine is quiet and refined, and shows little of the rattly, noisy diesel sound many people expect from the engines. With plenty of torque on tap, the AT4 feels somewhat lively, and is able to navigate traffic with ease. Reaching highway speeds and passing once there is also a breeze, and the truck remains surprisingly peaceful on the interstate.

Comfy Interior and Useful Bed Features

Inside, my test truck came equipped with leather upholstery and optional heated/cooled front seats. We had a rare heat wave in Maine during my week with the truck, and its powerful air conditioning combined with the cooled seats to create a much-needed oasis for this rare brutal week in northern New England. The front seats are wide and well-padded, but I found myself shuffling around, wanting more in the way of hip and thigh support. There's a tendency to slide to one side of the seat and stay there, which could easily be solved with a bit more bolstering on both the seat back and bottom.


2021 GMC Sierra AT4 The Sierra's cabin is comfortable and well-made.GMC


As all of my vehicle testing adventures do, the week with the AT4 involved plenty of kid transport. The full-size pickup's back seat is wide and flat, which makes it ideal for installing car seats, but I can't imagine that it'd be extremely supportive for an adult over a long-haul trip. The truck's lift means it's hard for kids to climb in, but they had a fun time trying. The novelty may wear thin over time, but it lasted for the week we had the AT4. Once inside, the kids (and anyone else in the back seat) had their own air conditioning vents and plenty of room to stretch out in their booster seats.

Normally, a truck bed would be an afterthought in a review, but GMC has gone to lengths to make its bed a standout. The Carbon Pro composite bed material is tough, as in there's no need to worry about throwing whatever you want into the bed tough. I hauled over 100 30-pound patio paver blocks over the course of a few trips, and never felt the need to add extra protection to the bed after the first trip. I tossed an old rug and some flat cardboard to protect the bed at first, but it proved to be as stout as GMC claims. Adding functionality is the MultiPro tailgate, which offers several options for steps and different cargo hauling situations. It makes an excellent step, and when the center section is folded down, it opens up much more access to the bed when standing on the ground. My tester also had an optional Bluetooth speaker system built right into the step system, which would make for an awesome camping or beach party.

Tech-Heavy Cabin

In terms of tech, the Sierra AT4 is up to speed but nothing to write home about. Its optional 8.0-inch touchscreen runs wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with an option for wired connections. There's also Bluetooth, SiriusXM Radio, and more. It's a cohesive system that is easy to use and intuitive, made even easier by clever behind-the-steering-wheel-mounted controls that allow volume and track adjustments. My truck also had an optional head-up display, which unsurprisingly is extremely difficult to see with polarized sunglasses. This is a common issue not unique to GMC, and could be solved by switching to non-polarized glasses.


2021 GMC Sierra AT4 The MultiPro tailgate adds ultimate functionality.GMC


Most advanced safety equipment is optional, and when I say most, I mean all. The Sierra AT4, and all Sierras for that matter, is available with automatic emergency braking, a bed-view camera system, forward collision alerts, front pedestrian braking, a front/rear parking assist system, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, lane departure warnings, and more. While I get the need to differentiate models with various features, the lack of some of these safety items is hard to swallow at nearly $60,000.

Bottom Line

I tend to become infatuated with full-size pickup trucks while I have them in for testing, but that feeling typically fades after a while. The Sierra AT4 was a little different. The diesel engine and comfortable interior make for a supremely daily-drivable pickup truck, and the Carbon Pro bed with multi-function tailgate makes a strong case for the GMC. Ultimately, it's too much truck for me, but it's a solid choice for those that can put it to work.

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The new Grand Cherokee L is on its way to dealers now.

Stellantis

The all-new three-row Grand Cherokee L was unveiled earlier this year, and features an ultra-premium interior, a load of new tech, and sharp styling that shouts back to Jeep models of the past. Just a few weeks ago, we learned pricing and feature details for the new model, and now Jeep says the vehicle is on its way to dealerships across the country.


Jeep Grand Cherokee L The L is the first three-row Grand Cherokee.Stellantis


In terms of styling, the L's shape has been reworked from previous Grand Cherokee models to be more reminiscent of the Jeep Grand Wagoneer. The automaker says that the grille has been tilted forward and is now wider for better air flow and a more dramatic appearance. The idea was to make the Grand Cherokee L look rugged, but keep it sleek and technical in the process.

The stretched Grand Cherokee retains the engines that powered its predecessors. That means a 3.6-liter V6 is standard, which delivers 293 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. A 5.7-liter V6 is optional, and makes 357 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. Both engines come paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either rear- or al-wheel drive. Either powertrain option will provide decent towing capability, but the V8 is unsurprisingly more powerful. With a V6 on board, the Grand Cherokee L can tow 6,200 pounds, while V8-powered models can pull 7,200 pounds.


Jeep Grand Cherokee L The L's styling is modern but nostalgic.Stellantis


Inside, Jeep says the L can be equipped with the latest tech and entertainment features. Running the latest Uconnect infotainment software, the Grand Cherokee L will be capable of wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and can be had with a head-up display, a rear-seat monitoring camera system, and a 950-watt 19-speaker McIntosh audio system. At the top end of the lineup, the Summit Reserve model gets Palermo quilted leather, open-pore waxed walnut wood, and 21-inch wheels.

Pricing for the L starts at $38,690 after destination, which buys the base Laredo trim. The range-topping Summit Reserve model starts at $61,690 after destination. Dealer deliveries are underway now, supported by almost 5,000 employees at Stellantis' Detroit Assembly Complex.

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