WASHINGTON – Two major automakers told the U.S. Congress on Tuesday that they are replacing Takata Corp.’s air bag inflators with units from other manufacturers amid growing concerns about the safety of Takata’s product.
Executives of FCA U.S. LLC and Honda Motor Co. were speaking during a Senate hearing over the massive global recalls of the company’s air bags. Eight deaths in the U.S. and Malaysia are blamed on shrapnel from faulty Takata inflators.
Scott Kunselman, senior vice president of FCA, formerly known as Chrysler Group LLC, told the hearing that the U.S. automaker “is replacing all driver’s side inflators involved in the recall with an alternate and permanent design” provided through U.S.-based TRW Automotive Inc.
Rick Schostek, executive vice president of Honda North America Inc., an American unit of the Japanese automaker, revealed a similar plan during the session of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
“Honda began searching for alternatives and . . . we have made deals” with Autoliv Inc. of Sweden, Daicel Corp. of Japan and TRW Automotive, Schostek said.
The session was the fourth congressional hearing in connection with the recalls of the products manufactured by Takata, the world’s second-largest air bag maker.
In accidents involving faulty Takata air bags, inflators ruptured and hurled metal fragments when activated, killing or injuring vehicle occupants. Takata said it has yet to identify the root cause.
Kunselman said his company has refrained from using the Takata equipment, suspecting that the agent used to generate gas to inflate the air bags causes the inflator to rupture with too much force.
Kevin Kennedy, executive vice president of Takata’s American arm TK Holdings Inc., said the manufacturer made improvements to the gas generating agent to ensure its safety.
Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told the hearing the recall campaign involved some 32 million vehicles in the United States.
Last month the administration said it estimated the figure at some 33.8 million vehicles but it reduced the number on Tuesday, citing double-counting. The NHTSA said it erroneously counted one car equipped with two Takata air bags subject to the recall as two.
Still, the recall of the air bags “may represent the largest national consumer recall in U.S. history,” Rosekind said.
Kennedy dismissed a report that Takata failed to conduct safety inspections on its air bag inflators from 2009 to 2011 for financial reasons.
The report released by the committee on Monday said internal emails obtained by the committee suggest that Takata may have prioritized profit over safety by halting global safety audits.
Kennedy said the audits that were referred to in one of the emails “were not the safety and the quality audits on the products, first of all.”