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Ford Motor Company, Receipt of Petition for Inconsequentiality and Decision Denying Request for Deferral of Determination

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  Ford Motor Company, Takata

Ford Motor Company, Receipt of Petition for Inconsequentiality and Decision Denying Request for Deferral of Determination

Stephen P. Wood
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
16 November 2017


[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 220 (Thursday, November 16, 2017)]
[Notices]
[Pages 53561-53563]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-24829]


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DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

[Docket No. NHTSA-2017-0093; Notice 1]


Ford Motor Company, Receipt of Petition for Inconsequentiality 
and Decision Denying Request for Deferral of Determination

AGENCY: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 
Department of Transportation.

ACTION: Notice of receipt of petition; notice of receipt of request for 
deferral, and of decision denying request for deferral.

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SUMMARY: On July 10, 2017, Takata Corporation (``Takata'') filed a 
defect information report (``DIR'') in which it determined that a 
safety-related defect exists in certain phase-stabilized ammonium 
nitrate (``PSAN'') driver-side airbag inflators that it manufactured 
with a calcium sulfate desiccant, including inflators that it supplied 
to Ford Motor Company (``Ford''), Mazda North American Operations 
(``Mazda''), and Nissan North America Inc. (``Nissan'') for use in 
certain vehicles. Ford has petitioned the Agency for a decision that, 
because analysis of inflators installed in certain Ford vehicles does 
not demonstrate propellant-tablet density degradation or increased 
inflation pressure, and because there are design differences between 
the inflators installed in Ford vehicles and an inflator variant 
installed in Nissan vehicles, the equipment defect determined to exist 
by Takata is inconsequential as it relates to motor vehicle safety in 
the Ford vehicles affected by Takata's DIR. Ford requests relief from 
its notification and remedy obligations under the National Traffic and 
Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 and its applicable regulations, and 
further requests that the Agency allow Ford until March 31, 2018 to 
complete certain analysis and testing before the Agency decides on the 
petition.

DATES: The closing date for comments is December 18, 2017.

ADDRESSES: Interested persons are invited to submit written data, 
views, and arguments regarding this petition for inconsequentiality. 
Comments must refer to the docket and notice number cited in the title 
of this notice and be submitted by one of the following methods:
     Internet: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and follow the 
online instructions for submitting comments.
     Mail: Docket Management Facility, M-30, U.S. Department of 
Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., West Building, Room W12-
140, Washington, DC 20590.
     Hand Delivery or Courier: U.S. Department of 
Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., West Building, Room W12-
140, Washington, DC 20590 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern Time, 
Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.
     Facsimile: (202) 493-2251.
    You may call the Docket at (202) 366-9324.
    Note that all comments received will be posted without change to 
http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information 
provided. Thus, submitting such information makes it public. You may 
wish to read the Privacy Act notice, which can be viewed by clicking on 
the ``Privacy and Security Notice'' link in the footer of http://www.regulations.gov. DOT's complete Privacy Act Statement is available 
for review in the Federal Register published on April 11, 2000 (65 FR 
19477-78).
    The petition, supporting materials, and all comments received 
before the close of business on the closing date indicated above will 
be filed in the docket and will be considered. Comments and supporting 
materials received after the closing date will also be filed and will 
be considered to the extent possible. When the petition is granted or 
denied, notice of the decision will also be published in the Federal 
Register pursuant to the authority indicated at the end of this notice.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For legal issues: Stephen Hench, 
Office of the Chief Counsel, NCC-100, National Highway Traffic Safety 
Administration, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, DC 20590 
(telephone: (202) 366-5263).
    For general information regarding NHTSA's investigation into Takata 
airbag inflator ruptures and the related recalls, visit https://www.nhtsa.gov/recall-spotlight/takata-air-bags.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

I. Background

    On November 3, 2015, NHTSA issued, and Takata agreed to, a Consent 
Order setting forth penalties, requirements, and performance 
obligations in connection with Takata's alleged failure to fully comply 
with the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 as 
amended and recodified (the ``Safety Act''), 49 U.S.C. 30101, et seq., 
and its applicable regulations. Under the Consent Order, Takata is 
required to

[[Page 53562]]

test its phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate (``PSAN'') inflators that 
contain a desiccant (a drying agent) in cooperation with vehicle 
manufacturers ``to determine the service life and safety of such 
inflators and to determine whether, and to what extent, these inflator 
types suffer from a defect condition, regardless of whether it is the 
same or similar to the conditions at issue'' in the Defect Information 
Reports (``DIRs'') Takata had filed for its non-desiccated PSAN 
inflators. Consent Order ] 28.
    In February 2016, NHTSA requested Ford's assistance in evaluating 
Takata calcium-sulfate desiccated PSDI-5 driver-side airbag inflators, 
to which Ford agreed. In June 2016, Ford and Takata began a field-
recovery program to evaluate Takata calcium-sulfate desiccated PSDI-5 
driver-side airbag inflators that were original equipment in MY 2007-
2008 Ford Ranger vehicles in Florida, Michigan, and Arizona. See also 
Recall No. 17E-034.\1\ Nissan also initiated a similar field-recovery 
program for its Versa vehicles in March 2016. Recall No. 17V-449. By 
January 2017, a very limited number of samples from Ford were available 
and tested. Recall No. 17E-034. In March 2017, Takata and Ford met to 
review the field data collected from the inflators returned by Ford and 
Nissan. Recall No. 17E-034. Between March and June 2017, additional 
Ford inflators were subjected to live dissection, which included 
chemical and dimensional propellant analyses, and ballistic testing. 
Recall No. 17E-034. Also in June, Takata reviewed with Ford and NHTSA 
field-return data from Ford inflators. Recall No. 17E-034. Ford then 
met with NHTSA on July 6, 2017 to discuss the data collected to date, 
as well as an expansion plan for evaluating Takata calcium-sulfate 
desiccated PSDI-5 driver-side airbag inflators.
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    \1\ Later, under Paragraph 43 of the Third Amendment to the 
Coordinated Remedy Order (``ACRO''), NHTSA ordered each vehicle 
manufacturer ``with any vehicle in its fleet equipped with a 
desiccated PSAN Takata inflator'' (and not using or planning to use 
such an inflator as a final remedy) to develop a written plan 
describing ``plans to confirm the safety and/or service life'' of 
desiccated PSAN Takata inflators used in its fleet. ACRO ] 43. Such 
plans were to include coordination with Takata for parts recovery 
from fleet vehicles, testing, and anticipated/future plans ``to 
develop or expand recovery and testing protocols of the desiccated 
PSAN inflators.'' Id.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Takata has analyzed over 400 such inflators from the Ford program--
as well as 895 such inflators from the Nissan program. See Recall No. 
17V-449. After a review of field-return data, on July 10, 2017, Takata, 
determining a safety-related defect exists, filed a DIR for calcium-
sulfate desiccated PSDI-5 driver-side airbag inflators that were 
produced from January 1, 2005 to December 31, 2012 and installed as 
original equipment on certain motor vehicles manufactured by Ford (the 
``covered Ford inflators''), as well as calcium-sulfate desiccated 
PSDI-5 driver-side airbag inflators for those same years of production 
installed as original equipment on motor vehicles manufactured by 
Nissan (the ``covered Nissan inflators'') and Mazda (the ``covered 
Mazda inflators'') (collectively, the ``covered inflators''). Recall 
No. 17E-034.
    Takata's DIR filing triggered Ford's obligation to file a DIR for 
its affected vehicles. See 49 CFR part 573; November 3, 2015 
Coordinated Remedy Order ]] 45-46.\2\ Ford filed a corresponding DIR, 
informing NHTSA it intended to file a petition for inconsequentiality. 
Ford Petition for a Determination of Inconsequentiality and Request for 
Deferral of Determination Regarding Certain Ford Vehicles Equipped with 
Takata PSDI-5 Desiccated Driver Airbag Inflators (August 16, 2017) 
(``Petition'') (cover letter). Ford then petitioned the Agency, under 
49 U.S.C. 30118(d), 30120(h), and 49 CFR part 556, for a decision that, 
because Takata's analysis of the covered Ford inflators does not show 
propellant tablet-density degradation, or increased inflation pressure, 
and certain inflator design differences exist between the covered Ford 
inflators and the covered Nissan inflators, the equipment defect 
determined to exist by Takata is inconsequential as it relates to motor 
vehicle safety in the Ford vehicles affected by Takata's DIR. Id. at 1, 
11-16.\3\ In addition, citing its commitment to further investigation, 
Ford stated it is expanding its acquisition, testing and analysis of 
the covered Ford inflators, and requested the Agency allow Ford until 
March 31, 2018 to complete certain testing and analysis before deciding 
on the Petition. Id. at 16-20.
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    \2\ Under 49 CFR 573.5(a), a vehicle manufacturer is responsible 
for any safety-related defect determined to exist in any item of 
original equipment. See also 49 U.S.C. 30102(b)(1)(C).
    \3\ Ford also suggests differences in ``vehicle environment,'' 
between affected Ford and Nissan vehicles as a potential explanation 
for inflator degradation-risk differences between the covered Ford 
inflators and the covered Nissan inflators. See Petition at 2. 
However, Ford does not elaborate on this suggestion elsewhere in its 
Petition. See id. at 14-16 (focusing on design differences between 
the covered Ford inflators and covered Nissan inflators).
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

II. Classes of Motor Vehicles Involved

    Ford's Petition involves approximately 3.04 million light vehicles 
that contain the covered Ford inflators. These vehicles are:

 Ford Ranger (MY 2007-2011)
 Ford Fusion (MY 2006-2012)
 Lincoln Zephyr/MKZ (MY 2006-2012)
 Mercury Milan (MY 2006-2011)
 Ford Edge (MY 2007-2010)
 Lincoln MKX (MY 2007-2010)

Id. (cover letter).

III. Summary of Ford's Petition

    Ford argues that Takata's DIR does not determine the covered Ford 
inflators ``actually contain a defect at this time, or that they will 
develop one over time,'' and that once Ford completes its engineering 
analysis (by the end of March 2018), it will be able to supplement or 
amend its Petition to ``allow the Agency to make a determination'' on 
its Petition. See id. at 10, 19. In the interim, Ford states that it 
will continue to obtain permanent replacement driver-side airbag 
inflators so that its continuing analysis will not affect the 
availability of parts if a remedy is needed. Id.
    Ford's position that the defect is inconsequential rests on two 
related arguments. First, in contrast to testing data pertaining to the 
covered Nissan inflators, Ford contends Takata's analysis of the 
covered Ford inflators does not show propellant-tablet density 
degradation or increased inflation pressure. Id. at 11. Takata has 
analyzed over 1,300 of its calcium-sulfate desiccated PSDI-5 driver-
side airbag inflators, which include approximately 423 inflators from 
Ford Ranger vehicles \4\ and 895 inflators from Nissan Versa 
vehicles.\5\ Such analysis involved both live inflator dissections and 
ballistic testing. Id. Ford asserts that about 360 live dissections of 
inflators obtained as part of Ford's field-recovery program demonstrate 
``consistent inflator output performance''--specifically, measurements 
of ignition-tablet discoloration, generate density, and moisture 
content of certain inflator constituents did not indicate a reduction-
in-density trend. Id. at 11-12. Ford further contends that these 
observations are supported by 47 ballistic deployment tests that showed 
no inflator exceeding the production primary-chamber pressure 
specifications. Id. at 12-13. Ford also emphasizes that Takata has not 
observed pressure vessel ruptures or

[[Page 53563]]

pressure excursions on any desiccated PSDI-5 inflator, and that ``[t]he 
maximum primary chamber pressure that Takata measured'' in covered Ford 
inflators was about 15 MPa lower than that measured in a covered Nissan 
inflator (which exhibited primary chamber pressure exceeding 60 MPa). 
Id. at 14.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \4\ Twenty of these inflators were from salvage yards, however, 
``where the conditions used to store the parts cannot be 
determined.'' Id. at 11.
    \5\ In its DIR, Nissan provides this 895 figure; in its 
Petition, Ford attributes ``approximately 1,000'' covered inflators 
to Nissan's program. Compare Recall No. 17V-449 with Petition at 11.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Second, and relatedly, Ford contends ``[t]here are design 
differences'' in the covered Ford inflators when compared to the 
covered Nissan inflators, and that such differences may explain 
differences observed between the two inflator variants during testing. 
Id. In short, Ford cites its inflator variant as having ``fewer 
potential moisture sources'' because the inflators contain only two, 
foil-wrapped auto-ignition tablets (instead of three that are not foil-
wrapped), contain divider disk foil tape, and utilize certain EPDM 
generate cushion material (instead of ceramic) that ``reduces generate 
movement over time, maintains generate integrity, and leads to 
consistent and predictable burn rates.'' Id. at 15-16 (providing 
table).
    The remainder of Ford's Petition explains its ``commit[ment] to 
further investigation of PSDI-5 airbag inflators.'' See id. at 16-18. 
Because of this stated concern, including about data pertaining to the 
covered Nissan inflators, ``Ford is expanding the scope of the sampling 
and is involving leading industry experts to assess any potential risks 
from desiccated PSDI-5 inflators in Ford products.'' Id. at 16. Ford 
outlines a two-pronged plan for this expansion. First, Ford describes a 
parts-acquisition program ``to gather approximately 6,000 desiccated 
PSDI-5 driver airbag inflators'' from certain model year vehicles in 
areas with high absolute humidity for what appears to be all vehicle 
lines in which the covered inflators were originally installed.\6\ Id. 
at 17. And second, Ford describes a continuation of inflator testing 
and engineering analysis, which will engage third-party experts for 
independent assessments. Id. at 17-18. The testing will include various 
engineering analyses (comparisons of design within the PSDI-5 family, 
statistical assessments, and ballistic modeling), inflator testing (CT 
scanning and inflator disassembly), and propellant testing (moisture 
content, closed-bomb burn rate, X-ray micro-computer tomography, 
thermogravimetric/differential scanning calorimetry analysis). Id.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \6\ Ford's Petition explicitly lists six vehicle lines, 
comprising all affected Ford models except for the Fusion. See 
Petition at 17. However, one of the six vehicle lines is simply 
listed as ``2006-2007 MY Ford.'' Presumably, this refers to certain 
MY Ford Fusions.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

IV. Request for Deferral of Determination

    Ford has requested that NHTSA allow it additional time before 
deciding on its Petition--specifically, until March 31, 2018--so that 
it may ``complete its intensified and expanded inflator field study, 
aging assessment, and testing on additional samples and vehicle types 
to evaluate the performance of the Takata desiccated PSDI-5 driver 
airbag inflators.'' Id. at 19. In making this request, Ford appears to 
acknowledge the available data may not yet be sufficient for the Agency 
to grant its Petition. Indeed, Ford notes that while its results to 
date are ``good news for the safety'' of users of one of its six 
affected vehicle models--the Ranger--``the results on the Nissan design 
inflators are of concern.'' Id.
    The Agency recognizes Ford's plans to expand its investigation and 
to secure a supply of remedy inflators for affected vehicles if it 
becomes needed. See id. at 3, 10. However, 49 CFR 556.4(b)(5) provides 
that an inconsequentiality petition must set forth all data, views, and 
arguments supporting that petition, and Ford does not adequately 
justify why this provision does not preclude deferral here.
    Specifically, NHTSA does not find Ford's request for deferral 
reasonable under the circumstances or supported by the testing and data 
it has collected to date. Indeed, Ford does not provide an explanation 
for why it has not already undertaken the expansive investigation it 
now proposes, and Ford's past efforts to evaluate the safety of the 
covered inflators do not support granting a deferral. NHTSA requested 
Ford's assistance in evaluating Takata calcium-sulfate desiccated PSDI-
5 driver-side airbag inflators in February 2016, and over seventeen 
months later only about 400 covered Ford inflators have been tested. 
Further, while the covered Ford inflators were original equipment in 
six vehicle models (Ranger, Fusion, MKZ, Milan, Edge, and MKX), all 
approximately 400 inflators harvested in Ford's field-recovery program 
were from the same vehicle model (the Ranger). Moreover, the number of 
inflators tested under Ford's program was less than half the number 
tested under Nissan's program, and about seven percent of the 
approximately 6,000 inflators Ford now proposes to test in only about 
seven months.
    It is difficult to reconcile Ford's ambitious plan with its prior 
approach toward evaluating the safety of the covered inflators. Ford 
has provided no compelling argument for the Agency to deviate from 49 
CFR 556.4(b)(5).
    For these reasons, NHTSA denies Ford's request for a deferral of 
the NHTSA's decision on Ford's Petition. The Agency will decide on 
Ford's Petition without consideration of Ford's planned additional 
efforts as outlined in its Petition. Nevertheless, NHTSA recognizes 
Ford's plans to further evaluate the safety of Takata calcium-sulfate 
desiccated PSDI-5 driver-side airbag inflators, and encourages Ford to 
move forward with those plans as described in its Petition--
particularly given the concern about these inflators that Ford has 
expressed.
    Accordingly, NHTSA hereby gives notice of its receipt of Ford's 
Petition for a Determination of Inconsequentiality and Request for 
Deferral of Determination Regarding Certain Ford Vehicles Equipped with 
Takata PSDI-5 Desiccated Driver Airbag Inflators. And it is hereby 
Ordered that:
    1. The period for public comment on Ford's Petition shall run from 
the publication of this decision through December 18, 2017; and
    2. Ford's request for a deferral of NHTSA's decision on Ford's 
Petition, so that Ford may complete its intensified and expanded 
inflator field study, aging assessment, and testing on additional 
samples and vehicle types, is Denied.

    Authority:  49 U.S.C. 30101, et seq., 30118, 30120(h), 30162, 
30166(b)(1), 30166(g)(1); delegation of authority at 49 CFR 1.95(a); 
49 CFR parts 556, 573, 577.

    Issued: November 9, 2017.
Stephen P. Wood,
Acting Chief Counsel.
[FR Doc. 2017-24829 Filed 11-15-17; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 4910-59-P

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