Fiat Chrysler recalling 1.9 million cars for new air bag defect

September 15, 2016 3:21 PM EDT

A woman walks past a logo of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) in Turin March 31, 2014. REUTERS/Giorgio Perottino

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By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said on Thursday it is recalling 1.9 million vehicles worldwide for an air bag defect linked to three deaths and five injuries.

It is the latest in a series of large-scale air bag recalls, as the auto industry grapples with a widening array of problems from potentially unstable inflators to bad software.

The Fiat Chrysler recall involves non-deployment of air bags and seat-belt pretensioners in some crashes. It affects 1.4 million U.S. vehicles sold between 2010 and 2014, including the Chrysler Sebring, 200, Dodge Caliber, Avenger, Jeep Patriot and Compass SUVs.

"There is a hypersensitivity now in the industry to vehicle safety," said Scott Upham, of Valient Market Research. Automakers continue to tweak air bag software, he said, noting that there is "a fine line between telling the bag when to deploy or not" in some situations.

Last week, General Motors Co said it would recall nearly 4.3 million vehicles worldwide due to a software defect that can prevent air bags from deploying, a flaw already linked to one death and three injuries. That defect is similar but not identical to the Fiat Chrysler issue.

Fiat Chrysler said the problem occurred when vehicles equipped with a particular control module and specific front impact sensor wiring are involved in certain collisions.

GM said in its recall that the module that controls air bag deployment has a software defect that may prevent frontal air bags from deploying in certain "rare circumstances."

Fiat Chrysler said it no longer uses the occupant restraint controllers or wire routing design. The notice did not say when it will begin recall repairs, which spokesman Eric Mayne said the automaker is "finalizing."

Automakers and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have been grappling with numerous recall issues.

In February, Continental Automotive Systems said it supplied potentially defective air bag control units to 5 million vehicles built over a five-year period. It said the units may fail and air bags may not deploy in a crash or may inadvertently deploy without warning.

In August, NHTSA said it was upgrading and expanding a probe of more than 8 million air bag inflators made by ARC Automotive Inc after a driver was killed in Canada when an inflator ruptured in a Hyundai Motor Co vehicle.

In May, NHTSA said automakers will recall another 35 million to 40 million Takata Corp air bag inflators that could rupture and send deadly metal fragments flying. More than 100 million inflators worldwide have been deemed defective and are linked to at least 14 deaths and 100 injuries.

In July 2015, NHTSA fined Fiat Chrysler $105 million for mishandling nearly two dozen recall campaigns covering 11 million vehicles. In December, NHTSA separately fined the automaker $70 million for failing to report vehicle crash deaths and injuries since 2003.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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