WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- U.S. regulators told Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to speed up its recall of airbags with faulty inflators linked to at least five deaths.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a letter Tuesday to the company that it should begin its recall of cars with Takata Corp. airbags Dec. 1, almost three weeks earlier than the company planned.
“The consequences of these inflator failures are serious,” NHTSA’s deputy administrator, David Friedman, said in the letter to Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. “Metal fragments are propelled towards vehicle occupants with sufficient speed to cause serious injury or death.”
Both Chrysler and Takata came under fire during a U.S. Senate hearing Nov. 20 where Takata’s executive in charge of global quality assurance, Hiroshi Shimizu, apologized for deaths and injuries related to the air bag’s flaw. NHTSA a day earlier called for a nationwide recall after piecemeal, regional repairs for almost 8 million cars over two years left drivers unsure about whether their airbags were prone to malfunction.
NHTSA said Takata will begin shipping replacement parts to Chrysler on Dec. 1, and the automaker should provide notification of the recall no later than that date.
Chrysler made the decision to replace the airbag inflators in 371,000 vehicles in June, though it didn’t plan to notify consumers until Dec. 19, when replacement parts are available, its senior vice president and head of vehicle safety and regulatory compliance, Scott Kunselman, testified at the Senate hearing last week.
NHTSA’s Friedman told reporters the agency has had to push Chrysler in previous cases to accelerate production of parts and get notices out to consumers.
“I don’t accept that there’s any reason they wait to notify consumers until they have the part,” Friedman said Nov. 20.
Takata has said the expanded callback industrywide could risk lives by aggravating a shortage of replacement parts. The company has already been struggling to ramp up production under the regional recalls. Shimizu said at the hearing that Takata is producing more than 300,000 kits a month and will increase to as many as 450,000 in January.
NHTSA has been investigating Takata airbag inflators that could malfunction if exposed to consistently high humidity. The agency has said the condition could cause the devices to deploy with too much force, break apart metal pieces and strike passengers. The air bags are linked to at least four deaths in Honda Motor Co. vehicles in the U.S. and another in Malaysia.
Eric Mayne, a spokesman for Chrysler, couldn’t immediately comment because the company was reviewing the letter from NHTSA.