News Extra: Takata to recall 40 million more airbags in US
18 May 2016
Japanese airbag maker Takata has been forced to increase a recall after US authorities said they found further safety defects in its products. On May 4, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) expanded its existing recall adding 35 to 40 million airbag inflators to the recall list and affecting vehicles from 22 car and truckmakers, doubling the existing recall.
Takata has already been forced to recall 28.8 million units after malfunctioning inflators were linked to 11 deaths and more than 100 injuries. The numbers concerned make this the largest safety recall in US history.
This brings the total number of faulty airbags in the US to 69 million. About 8 million of those have already been replaced, but the NHTSA said a shortage of airbags means the replacement programme is likely to run until 2019. Millions of people will therefore be driving cars that could pose a deadly risk over the next three years.
NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said his own family car has a Takata airbag, and that he is still waiting for a replacement.
The agency said the problem is due to the inflators' propensity to rupture, spraying shrapnel at driver and passengers. Takata uses ammonium nitrate to fill its airbags with air in a crash. Most other airbag makers use guanidine nitrate, which is less volatile.
"The science clearly shows that these inflators become unsafe over time, faster when exposed to humidity and variations of temperature," said Rosekind.
The latest death confirmed to be linked to Takata was in Texas, where a 17-year-old girl was killed after being in a relatively minor crash in her family's 2002 Honda Civic. On May 4, Malaysian authorities said two people had died in recent car crashes in which Takata airbags exploded with too much force.
The marques concerned are Acura, Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Daimler Trucks & Vans, Dodge/Ram, Ford, GMC, Honda, Infiniti, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn, Subaru, Toyota and Volkswagen. Honda owners are the worst affected by the recall.
The agency has told those who might own affected vehicles to check the list at www.safercar.gov.
Takata originally told US safety regulators that the core of the problem was how the explosive material used to inflate Takata air bags had been handled and processed at plants in the United States and Mexico.
Ammonium nitrate is the compound responsible for a number of fertiliser and explosive plant blasts over the years, most recently at the fertiliser storage facility at West in Texas in 2013 which killed 15 and injured more than 160.
In March 2006, Takata's airbag plant at Monclova in Mexico was rocked by a series of explosions that sent a fireball into the air. It is not known if ammonium nitrate was involved in these blasts.
Takata has identified several manufacturing problems with its inflators, including some at a plant in Moses Lake, Washington, and at Monclova, where the ammonium nitrate was exposed to too much moisture inside the air-conditioned plant. This meant the inflator propellant could burn too fast and blow apart the metal casing surrounding it, sending out hot gas and shrapnel.
In November 2014, a report in the New York Times alleged that Takata engineers carried out secret tests on discarded airbags in 2004, after becoming concerned over an incident in Alabama in which one of the company's airbags ruptured.
Takata secretly conducted tests on 50 airbags it retrieved from scrapyards, according to two former employees involved in the tests, one of whom was a senior member of its testing lab.
The Japanese company's engineers were alarmed by what they found. But instead of alerting regulators, the report says that Takata executives "ordered the lab technicians to delete the testing data from their computers and dispose of the airbag inflators in the trash." The first airbag recall was not issued until November 2008.