After nearly two years of recalls and some 11 million affected vehicles, covering a couple dozen brands from ten automakers, the Takata airbag recall has finally drawn its final straw from the U.S. government.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has called for a national recall of all affected vehicles, after discovery of faulty airbag deployment in a vehicle not covered within the regional parameters to which most manufacturers are adhering. If the manufacturers and Takata do not comply, NHTSA said it would use its statutory powers to force a recall of all vehicles using the same or similar airbag inflators that caused the rolling recalls since April 2013.
The agency has also asked airbag manufacturer Takata and the 10 manufacturers it supplies (BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota) to file documents under oath about what they are doing to test airbag deployment outside the “affected” regions (which had recently been identified as high-humidity areas, such as Florida and Hawaii).
Further, NHTSA has asked for Takata to provide detailed reports on the propellant used in the airbags, in light of information that it had recently switched up the chemical formula of the propellant used in its inflators. Takata has stated from the outset that the fault lay with improperly stored chemicals at its Mexican manufacturing plant, which caused the metal inflators to rupture on deployment and spray shrapnel into the cabin (potentially injuring front seat occupants).
“We now know that millions of vehicles must be recalled to address defective Takata airbags and our aggressive investigation is far from over,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman. “We’re pushing Takata and all affected manufacturers to issue the recall and to ensure the recalls capture the full scope of the problems.”
In reply to the request from NHTSA, Takata issued a statement stating its intention to understand the scope of the problem and rectify it.
“We are dramatically increasing the testing and analysis of inflators retrieved from the safety campaigns to help chart the best strategy for addressing it,” stated Chairman and CEO Shigehisa Takada in the statement. “We are tripling our own capacity for testing and fully support efforts by the automakers and NHTSA to do additional testing and analysis of returned inflators.”
The airbag inflator problem first came to light in April 2013, when Honda Nissan and Toyota collectively recalled 3.4 million cars to address potential airbag inflators rupturing and spraying the metal shrapnel in the cabin. It was revealed that all three used airbags manufactured by Takata, a Japanese company that holds about 20 percent of the worldwide airbag market and supplies airbags to various manufacturers worldwide from plants in 20 countries.