Takata will drop a troublesome airbag inflator design
WASHINGTON -- Takata Corp. will stop producing one type of driver-side airbag inflator that is used in more than 17 million U.S. vehicles covered by its expanded recalls, a top Takata executive plans to tell lawmakers.
In written testimony released ahead of a Tuesday U.S. House subcommittee hearing into the Takata recalls, Kevin Kennedy, Takata’s executive vice president for North America, said the company has committed to stop producing the “batwing” style of driver-side inflators. The style is one of multiple types of airbag inflators covered by the embattled supplier’s recall of nearly 34 million U.S. vehicles. Takata knows of 67 ruptures on those inflators that have occurred in vehicles on the road, Kennedy said in his testimony.
In the prepared testimony, Kennedy said the inflator recalls will be rolled out in stages.
The nationwide driver-side airbag recall will be done in four stages, first targeting older vehicles that have ever been registered in Southern U.S. states, Hawaii and U.S. territories -- areas with higher year-round humidity than other parts of the country, Kennedy said. Later stages will cover newer vehicles and those registered in U.S. states outside the high-humidity region. About 17.6 million vehicles made by Honda, BMW, Chrysler, Ford and Mazda are included in the driver-side inflator recall.
Takata passenger-side airbags will be recalled in three campaigns, one national and two regional ones covering vehicles in high-humidity areas, Kennedy’s testimony said.
According to Takata defect reports submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month, the national passenger-side campaign covers vehicles made by Chrysler, Daimler Trucks, Ford, General Motors, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota. Kennedy said it also would be rolled out in four stages based on the age of the inflators, which were made through 2008.
Takata, however, said it will continue to use ammonium nitrate propellant in its airbag inflators, a Takata spokesman said, calling reports today that the supplier would stop using the chemical compound “inaccurate.”
“We continue to use phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate in our propellant, which is safe and effective for use in airbag inflators when properly engineered and manufactured. We are confident that our replacement airbags are safe,” the Takata spokesman said in a statement.
“As noted in the testimony, we are also working with our automaker partners to transition to newer version of driver inflators in our replacement kits or inflators made by other suppliers that do not contain ammonium nitrate propellant.”
Coordination among companies
NHTSA has tapped a previously unused authority to plan and coordinate the massive Takata recall campaigns, with input from the affected automakers and Takata, Kennedy said.
Industry officials are praising the move. In prepared remarks for delivery at Tuesday’s hearing, Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said federal coordination of the recalls is appropriate in this case because antitrust laws “may hinder” automakers from developing a coordinated response on their own.
“For example, the issue of parts allocation and prioritization of repairs in a constrained marketplace raises antitrust risks that are difficult for manufacturers to address on their own under existing law,” Bainwol said in prepared remarks.
Meanwhile, the alliance has begun a research project to understand what motivates consumers to bring their vehicles to dealerships for recall repairs and why some 25 percent of the vehicles recalled each year aren’t repaired within a year and a half. Bainwol said the study is scheduled to be completed by fall but interim findings will be released as needed to help improve recall completion rates.
John Bozzella, CEO of the Association of Global Automakers, said in remarks prepared for the hearing that his group’s members, which include Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia and other foreign-owned automakers, “have gone far beyond what the law requires” to notify owners. He said companies are issuing multiple recall notices and also using social media, ad campaigns and other digital tools to alert customers to the recalls.
Bozzella said while some 80 percent of newer-vehicle owners bring their cars in for recall repairs, that number declines “dramatically” as cars age.
Said Bozzella: “This is a key challenge in resolving the Takata recall and raises an important question: Are there limits to the success of a voluntary system?”