By Christopher Jensen
Plain Dealer Auto Editor
Friday, April 25, 2003
Edition: Final, Section: Business, Page C3
After a two-year fight, Nissan Motor Co. said yesterday that it would
voluntarily recall almost 249,000 of its 1994 and 1995 Altimas to replace
passenger-side air bags that federal investigators worried could cause
serious eye injuries.
Nissan continued to insist that there was nothing wrong with the air bags,
which the automaker will replace for free.
But consumer groups and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
said Altima owners should take advantage of the recall to eliminate the
chance of being blinded.
"For a defect that does not cause death, this is one of the worst ever,"
said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety,
which had urged the NHTSA and Nissan to recall the bags.
The NHTSA knows of 37 serious eye injuries, including 15 cases "reportedly"
resulting in vision in at least one eye being permanently impaired or lost.
Nissan said it is offering to change the bags only to reassure consumers
upset by "sensationalized news reports" promoted by lawyers eager to sue the
automaker. Nissan noted that the NHTSA "closed its investigation without a
finding of any safety defect."
But the NHTSA said it would not have ended the investigation had Nissan not
agreed to "an action that addresses our safety concerns." The agency also
said its decision "does not constitute a finding that no safety defect
Nissan will be sending letters to owners this week , company spokesman Kyle
The recall is likely to cost about $100 million, Ditlow estimated. Bazemore
said he was not sure how much it will cost.
A change was made in the air bag installed in Altimas starting halfway
through the 1995 model year, the NHTSA said.