By Christopher Jensen
The New York Times
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The problem, on vehicles in the 2013-14 model years, stems from a federally mandated system intended to determine whether the front passenger seat is occupied — and turn off the air bag if it is not — or if a small child is seated there.
Nissan told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that a software problem in the occupant classification system might not detect an occupant in that seat.
The automaker blamed the sensitivity of the software calibration, particularly when “a combination of factors such as high engine vibration at idle when the seat is initially empty and then becomes occupied” or an “unusual” seating posture are factors.
The report said the automaker was aware of three accidents in which the passenger air bag did not deploy in a crash even though the seat was said to be occupied.
Nissan is not aware of any fatalities involving the problem, Steve Yaeger, a Nissan spokesman, wrote in an email. He said he did not know if any injuries were associated with the defect.
Other big recalls
Nissan’s action comes amid a string of recalls this year.
Last month, General Motors announced the recall of 1.6 million older Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other small cars, citing a defective ignition switch that it has linked to 12 deaths.
That recall is now the subject of a series of investigations over why it took more than decade for GM to act on a problem it had been alerted to.
Last week, GM announced another recall, this time for 1.3 million sport utility vehicles for an air bag malfunction. Honda and Toyota have also announced large recalls.
The Nissan models affected, about 990,000, include the 544,000 Altima sedans, 29,000 Leaf electric vehicles, 124,000 Pathfinder sport utility vehicles, 183,000 Sentra compacts and 6,700 NV200 taxis from the 2013 model year.
Infiniti models affected by the action include 64,000 2013 JX35 and 2014 QX60 models and 40,000 2014 Q50 sedans.
Last April, Nissan recalled about 82,000 cars and trucks from the 2013 model year, telling NHTSA that a malfunction of “strain gauge sensors” could suppress the front passenger air bag even if someone were seated there.
Yaeger could not immediately say whether those vehicles were being recalled again.
Shortly after the 2013 recall, Nissan was still receiving complaints from owners about the occupant classification system not working properly, according to the recall report posted on Wednesday.
So it began “monitoring the situation” and concluded last September that there wasn’t a malfunction, but that the problem was “likely caused by out-of-position occupants.”