U.S. warns 143,000 VW SUVs owners to keep front passenger seats empty pending fix


  • Front passenger seats must stay empty till fault is fixed-NHTSA
  • Fault could cause air bag deactivation even if seat is occupied

WASHINGTON, April 4 (Reuters) – Owners of 143,000 recalled Volkswagen Atlas vehicles should not let people sit in front passenger seats until the occupant-detection systems in these vehicles have been fixed, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Tuesday.

The recall covers 2018-2021 model year Atlas and 2020 model year Atlas Cross Sport vehicles, and relates to potential faulty occupant-detection systems in front passenger seats.

The passenger occupant-detection system may experience a fault in the wiring, which could deactivate the front passenger air bag even when the seat is occupied. A deactivated air bag will not deploy in the event of a crash, increasing the risk of injury to the front seat passenger, NHTSA said.

Volkswagen said it is currently developing a remedy, which it expects to be ready likely in late 2023. VW in late 2020 introduced a new cable to address potential issues with the system.

VW said it was not aware of any crashes or injuries related to the recall.

Automakers are required to have sensors that deactivate front passenger air bags if they sense the presence of children or small-statured adults, to prevent them from being seriously injured or killed when an air bag is deployed, an event that involves some force.

The German automaker began investigating the issue in August 2019. In a 2021 meeting, VW said “field data analysis indicates that the failure is highly sporadic and the warning light is illuminating immediately upon failure,” according to a summary filed with NHTSA.

In February, the auto safety agency requested a meeting to discuss the field performance of the Atlas Passenger Occupant Protection System, VW said. The automaker held a meeting with NHTSA on March 23 to discuss its recall decision.

Reporting by David Shepardson Editing by Bernadette Baum