General Motors will recall about seven million big pickup trucks and SUVs worldwide to replace potentially dangerous Takata air bag inflators.
The announcement came Monday after the U.S. government told the automaker it had to recall six million of the vehicles in the U.S.
GM says it will not fight the decision, even though it believes the vehicles are safe. It will cost the company an estimated $1.2 billion US , about one third of its net income so far this year.
The automaker had petitioned the agency four times since 2016 to avoid recalls, contending the air bag inflator canisters have been safe on the road and in testing. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Monday denied the petitions, saying the inflators still run the risk of exploding.
Owners complained to the NHTSA that the company was placing profits over safety.
Exploding Takata inflators caused the largest series of auto recalls in U.S. history, with at least 63 million inflators recalled. The U.S. government says that, as of September, more than 11.1 million had not been fixed. About 100 million inflators have been recalled worldwide.
27 deaths worldwide
Takata used volatile ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion to fill air bags in a crash. But the chemical can deteriorate when exposed to heat and humidity, and they can explode with too much pressure, blowing apart a metal canister and spewing shrapnel.
Twenty-seven people have been killed worldwide by the exploding inflators, including 18 in the U.S.
Monday’s decision by NHTSA is a major step in drawing the Takata saga to a close. It means that all Takata ammonium nitrate inflators in the U.S. will be recalled, NHTSA said. Earlier this year the agency decided against a recall of inflators with a moisture-absorbing chemical called a dessicant. NHTSA said it would monitor those inflators and take action if problems arise.
GM will recall full-size pickup trucks and SUVs from the 2007 through 2014 model years, including the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, 2500 and 3500 pickups. The Silverado is GM’s top-selling vehicle and the second-best selling vehicle in the U.S. Also covered are the Chevrolet Suburban, Tahoe and Avalanche, the Cadillac Escalade, GMC Sierra 1500, 2500 and 3500, and the GMC Yukon.
It took the agency more than four years to arrive at its decision, which comes toward the end of U.S. President Donald Trump’s four-year term.
NHTSA said in a prepared statement that it analyzed all available data on the air bags, including engineering and statistical analyses, aging tests and field data.
“Based on this information and information provided to the petition’s public docket, NHTSA concluded that the GM inflators in question are at risk of the same type of explosion after long-term exposure to high heat and humidity as other recalled Takata inflators,” the agency said.
The company has 30 days to give NHTSA a proposed schedule for notifying vehicle owners and starting the recall, the statement said.
GM said that although it believes a recall isn’t warranted based on the factual and scientific records, it will abide by NHTSA’s decision.
Spokesman Dan Flores said Monday that none of the inflators have blown apart in the field or in laboratory testing. But he said GM wants to avoid a drawn-out fight with the government.
“Although we are confident that the inflators in the GMT900 vehicles do not pose an unreasonable risk to safety, continue to perform as designed in the field and will continue to perform as designed in line with the results of our accelerated aging studies, we will abide by NHTSA’s decision to maintain the trust and confidence of customers and regulators,” he said in an email.
In a 2019 petition to NHTSA, GM said the inflators were designed to its specifications and are safe, with no explosions even though nearly 67,000 air bags have deployed in the field. The inflators, it said, have larger vents and steel end caps to make them stronger.
But Takata declared the GM front passenger inflators defective under a 2015 agreement with the government.
In its petition, GM said that Northrop Grumman tested 4,270 inflators by artificially exposing them to added humidity and temperature cycling, and there were no explosions or abnormal deployments.
However, NHTSA hired air bag chemical expert Harold Blomquist, who holds 25 air bag patents, to review the data, and he concluded that the GM air bags were similar to other Takata inflators that had exploded.
Test results for the GM inflators included abnormally high-pressure events “indicative of potential future rupture risk,” NHTSA said in documents. “These findings illustrate that GM’s inflators have a similar, if not identical, degradation continuum” to other Takata inflators that have exploded, the agency wrote.
Flores said GM already has purchased 1.6 million replacement inflators made by ZF-TRW that do not use ammonium nitrate.
‘Unexploded hand grenade’
Jason Levine, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, which opposed GM’s petitions to avoid recalls, said it’s a good day for millions of GM owners who had to wait four years for a decision on “whether they are driving with an unexploded hand grenade in their steering wheel.”
Shares of GM rose nearly 3 per cent in Monday morning trading to $44.21. The company said the recalls will be phased in based on replacement inflator availability, and will cost $400 million this year.
Drivers can check to see if their vehicles have been recalled by going to nhtsa.gov/recalls and keying in their 17-digit vehicle identification number.
The previous Takata recalls drove the Japanese company into bankruptcy and brought criminal charges against the company. Eventually it was purchased by a Chinese-owned auto parts supplier.
Ontario's first major COVID-19 vaccination site will pause after just 5 days due to supply shortage – CTV Toronto
Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg says a pilot COVID-19 vaccination clinic that just opened today at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre will have to pause vaccinations on Friday because of a shortage of vaccine supply in the province.
The proof-of-concept clinic opened Monday and is meant to help develop a blueprint for how shots should be administered in non-medical settings as soon as this spring. So far, COVID-19 vaccines have only been administered at long-term care homes and at 19 hospital sites across Ontario.
Pegg said last week the facility would be “scale-able” and capable of increasing output with little notice, with an initial target of 250 doses per day.
But at the city’s media briefing on Monday, he said the province has now asked the city to pause vaccinations at the new clinic by the end of Friday.
“We were all disappointed to learn that the delivery of Pfizer vaccine to Canada is expected to be delayed as a result of manufacturing delays in Europe. As a result, we have now been advised by the province that we will only be able to operate this proof of concept clinic for an initial five days due to the lack of availability of COVID-19 vaccine,” Pegg said.
He said anyone with an appointment at the clinic from Jan. 23 on should expect that their appointment will be cancelled.
Peg said those who receive their first dose at the clinic this week will still be able to get their second dose within the proper timeframe.
The clinic will resume vaccinations once it gets word from the province that it may do so. In the meantime, Pegg said the city is continuing to plan for a quick rollout of the vaccine when more doses become available.
“We are continuing to explore all options to accelerate our ability to administer vaccines to Toronto residents once larger quantities of vaccine are available,” he said. “This will include planning for extended hours of clinic operations, expanded clinic capacity targets and implementing innovative delivery methods that meet the needs of our city, including mobile vaccine clinics, priority neighborhood response, hospital-led clinic operations and widespread public access via pharmacies and primary care physicians.”
The site had been expected to run for at least six weeks in order to gather data about how best to host vaccination drives in larger settings.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Tory toured the site at MTCC’s North Building just on Sunday.
While the clinic was meant to use the Moderna vaccine, the Pfizer delays mean that some of that supply will now be redistributed to other parts of the province.
Couche-Tard to pursue other deals after Carrefour failure – BNN
Executives at Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. defended a failed bid for Carrefour SA and said they would still like to buy the French grocer some day, but will turn their focus to other potential deals.
The Canadian convenience store operator made a US$20 billion offer that was shot down by French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Friday. The bid caught investors off guard because Couche-Tard does not operate supermarkets.
The shares tumbled nearly 11 per cent last week. On Monday, they were up 2.4 per cent to $38.90 as of 9:36 a.m. in Toronto.
In response to criticism of the deal, Couche-Tard executive chairman Alain Bouchard said previous large deals — including the 2003 acquisition of Circle K — also surprised the market, but they worked out.
“Over the last decades while growing our business we have made many bold moves, some of which were not always obvious to our stakeholders,” Bouchard said on a conference call with investors Monday.
“Was I hoping our bold approach to Carrefour would have turned out differently? Of course. Yet I’m tremendously proud that Couche-Tard had the financial strength and acumen to make such an offer.”
The companies announced the end of negotiations on Saturday, four days after Bloomberg first reported the talks, and said they’ll work instead on a looser alliance in areas including fuel purchasing and product distribution.
Couche-Tard executives gave few details on that alliance Monday, calling the talks exploratory. Chief Executive Officer Brian Hannasch said there is a “robust” set of other acquisitions to examine as it pursues a five-year goal of doubling profit by 2023.
Hannasch said the door is open to a future Carrefour merger if the political climate in France changes.
“I’m old enough to believe there’s no such thing as permanently,” he said. “We’d love to do the transaction, so if we got signals that the environment could change or would change from the French government or the key stakeholders, we’d love the opportunity to re-engage — under the right conditions and assuming we haven’t found another way to create more value for our shareholders.”
The Laval, Quebec-based company has been making headway on its growth plans even without a major acquisition in recent years. Analysts expect adjusted earnings per share to be 16 per cent higher for the fiscal year that ends in April, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Even so, its valuation has dipped.
The chain has been improving its coffee and adding fresh food offerings, which come with higher margins. It’s digging into analytics to improve pricing and promotions, and planning to roll out electric vehicle charging stations in North America after learning from its experience in Norway.
Couche-Tard strengthened its foothold in Asia by buying about 370 stores in Hong Kong and Macau that previously were Circle K brand licensees. But a large takeover has remained elusive since it signed a US$4 billion purchase of Texas-based CST Brands Inc. in 2016.
In April, the company walked away from a US$5.6 billion proposal for gas station chain Caltex Australia Ltd. (now known as Ampol Ltd.), citing pandemic uncertainty. And it missed out on Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s Speedway gas stations, which were scooped up in August by Japan’s Seven & i Holdings Co., the world’s largest convenience store operator, for US$21 billion.
Couche-Tard executives have scoffed at the valuation of Speedway. Addressing shareholders at the company’s annual meeting in September, Bouchard cited it as an example of the company’s discipline around acquisitions.
The balance sheet leaves it in a good place to hunt for deals. The company had about US$5.5 billion in net debt at the end of its October quarter, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It’s earned US$3.5 billion in operating profit in the last four quarters.
Chief Financial Officer Claude Tessier told analysts in November that the current debt ratio is at half of Couche-Tard’s comfort level.
Hacked emails allegedly detail how EU drug regulator was pressured to approve Pfizer jab despite ‘problems’ with the vaccine – RT
An alleged cache of email exchanges between EU officials and the European Medicines Agency show that the drug regulator was uncomfortable about fast-tracking approval for the Pfizer and Moderna Covid jabs, Le Monde has reported.
The EMA has claimed that the contents of the messages, which were obtained by hackers and published on the dark web, were tampered with in order to undermine confidence in the drugs, without providing further details. However, the agency acknowledged to the French newspaper that the correspondences reflect “issues and discussions” that took place in the lead-up to the decision to grant approval to the vaccines. The agency said it can’t specify which documents are genuine.
Some of the “discussions” appear to have been less than congenial. For example, in a document dated November 19, a senior EMA official described a “rather tense, sometimes even a little unpleasant” conference call with the European Commission regarding the review process for the drugs. The official said he felt there was a clear “expectation” that the vaccines would be approved. A day later, the same individual had an exchange with the Danish Medicines Agency in which he expressed surprise that Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, had announced that the Moderna and Pfizer jabs could receive the green light before the end of the year.
“There are still problems with both,” the unnamed EMA official noted in the leaked correspondence.
According to Le Monde, the hacked documents primarily detail issues that the EMA had with the Pfizer/BioNTech drug. The regulator apparently had three “major issues” with the vaccine: certain manufacturing sites used for its production had not yet been inspected, data on batches produced for commercial use were still missing, and, most importantly, available data revealed qualitative differences between the commercial batches and those used during clinical trials.
The EMA expressed particular concern about the last point, noting that mass production had decreased the purity of the RNA contained in the vaccine. The Pfizer jab uses a mRNA strand, a sequence of molecules that tell cells what to ‘build’ in order to produce a disease-specific antigen.
The EU drug regulator signaled that it was worried that less rigorous manufacturing methods would make the vaccine less effective and safe. However, Pfizer appears to have agreed to make necessary adjustments in order to meet the EMA’s standards.
Despite its hesitancy, it appears the EMA understood that it was under a clear deadline. In an email exchange between colleagues at the agency, one employee said the EMA needs to “accelerate the process to align [with other agencies],” and risks facing “questions and criticisms” from Brussels, the media and the general public if it did not fast-track approval.
The Pfizer jab was granted approval by the EU on December 21, while the Moderna variant was given the go-ahead earlier this month. Since then, numerous reports have emerged of both drugs being linked to adverse effects in countries around the world, prompting investigations by health authorities.
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