Takata “Most Complex-Consumer-Safety Recall in U.S. History”
Recalls for vehicles containing airbags manufactured by Japanese company Takata continue to climb in what U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx has called the “most complex-consumer-safety recall in U.S. history”.
Takata Airbag Current Situation
There are approximately 34 million vehicles across nearly two dozen brands potentially affected by the Takata airbag recall within the United States, with another 7 million having been recalled worldwide. These recalls are a result of defective inflator and propellant devices which can improperly deploy in a crash.
In the event of a crash, manufacturing defects can cause metal fragments to be catapulted into vehicle occupants, incurring injury and death. Nine deaths in the United States and one outside the U.S. have been linked to the faulty inflators, with all but one incident involving a Honda model.
Reuters, in review of documents related to the airbag defects, found that the Takata’s plant in Mexico displayed a defect rate 6 to 8 times above acceptable limits. The company is under criminal investigation but the results of the investigation have yet to be revealed.
The overwhelming reach of these recalls has resulted in shortages of replacement parts. Older vehicles and those within high-humidity locales that are more at risk have been given priority, with further replacement parts predicted to be available by the summer. In the meantime, dealers have been given stop-sale instructions for affected vehicles which have yet to be repaired.
Takata Airbag Recall Highlights
Takata first announced the fault to the public in April of 2013, stating that the defects had arisen as a result of mishandled and improperly stored propellant chemicals. They later added that humid weather, rust, bad welds, and even chewing gum being dropped within the inflator were to blame as well. Takata then admitted that that were unaware as to which cars were using their defective inflators and finally stated they did not know the source of the problem.
Recalls were limited to humid areas until the November 2014 airbag failure of a 2007 Ford Mustang in North Carolina prompted NHTSA to issue a nationwide recall. This month also saw a call by two U.S. Senators for the Department of Justice to open an investigation into the matter.
In December 2014, Takata president Stefan Stocker stepped down and the top executives agreed to significant pay cuts. Late-January 2015, an independent review board led by former U.S. transportation secretary Samuel K. Skinner was formed to look into Takata’s manufacturing process and make recommendations.
In May of 2015, the company agreed to pay the U.S. government significant fines for not cooperating satisfactorily with federal investigations. In June Takata informed Reuters that at least 10 percent of the 4 million replacement airbag inflators would have to be replaced again, and could not guarantee their replacement parts. Internal Takata employee communications came to light in November of 2015 that showed the company was aware of inflator issues as far back as 2000 and had been manipulating their data.
On November 4th, Honda declared they would cease use of any airbag components produced by Takada after being made aware of the misrepresented test data. They were swiftly joined in this decision by Toyota, Mazda, Honda, and Ford. On the 3rd of that month the NHTSA issued Takata a record civil penalty of at least $70 million, but could be responsible for as much as $200 million if further violations are discovered.
They also banned Takata airbag inflators that utilized ammonium nitrate as the propellant from being installed in future cars. They were followed in this ban by Japan’s transport ministry in early-December.