Japanese auto parts maker Takata is facing another round of recalls for its airbags. The safety agency previously gave Takata until the end of 2019 to prove that its remaining airbag inflators using ammonium nitrate are fundamentally safe, but now all Takata airbags using that propellant without a chemical drying agent must be recalled.
"Today's action is a significant step in the U.S. Department of Transportation's aggressive oversight of Takata on behalf of drivers and passengers across America", Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. The revised Coordinated Remedy Program, to be announced this summer, will detail the updated vehicle prioritization schedule and the schedule by which manufacturers are required to procure sufficient supply of replacement parts to conduct the required recall repairs.
Takata agreed to replace the inflators in five phases beginning immediately and extending through December 2019. In addition to the fatalities, about 100 people have been injured. "The acceleration of this recall is based on scientific evidence and will protect all Americans from airbag inflators that may become unsafe".
About the expansion of airbags recall to an additional 35-40 million U.S. vehicles, Takata said in a statement that it has "agreed to accept and support the expanded recalls respecting Takata's and NHTSA's shared interest towards future safety and restoring public confidence". The lack of the drying agent, when subjected to moisture and heat, can cause the propellant within the inflator to be rendered unstable, and explode with excessive force when the airbag deploys, rupturing its container and spraying vehicle occupants with metal shards. The Takata recall was already the largest in US history, but now that it spans another 35-40 million vehicles, it affects roughly one in four cars.
After reviewing three investigations into the root cause of the defect by Honda, Takata and a group of 10 automakers, NHTSA confirmed several years of exposure to moist air and fluctuations between high and lower temperatures degrades the ammonium nitrate propellant. It is the largest and most complex recall campaign in U.S. history. There have been no reported ruptures of the desiccated inflators, but NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said the agency could order a recall if new facts emerged.
Even without the expansion, it would have taken until the end of 2017 for enough replacement parts to be manufactured, said Scott Upham, CEO of Valient Market Research in Philadelphia, which tracks air bag sales.
"They're pitching into the best of their ability, but even with their help, it's going to be very hard to really ramp up production to cover this", he said.
"You've just got to stay vigilant, so as soon as it's available, get it fixed", he said.