SOUTHFIELD, MICHIGAN – Hundreds of Takata Corp. air bag inflators pulled from cars in the auto industry’s biggest-ever recall later ruptured in testing, showing the potential risks to drivers.
Documents released Friday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reveal that out of 245,000 recalled airbag inflators pulled from cars and tested, 660 ruptured. As many as 15 deaths worldwide have been linked to the components, which can rupture and shoot deadly shards at vehicle occupants.
The test results illustrate the risk to consumers who do not bring their cars in to have the repairs performed or own cars that are not old enough to be eligible for the current round of replacement. Testing has shown that the inflators degrade over time, so Takata has been repairing older cars first while replacement parts are being manufactured.
“You have to start where you see the highest risk,” said Jared Levy, a spokesman for the company which has been hired to speak for Takata.
The reports filed Friday by Takata were required under a consent order signed last year with NHTSA. They include technical assessments by outside consultants as well as a summary of facts in the case produced by the Tokyo-based company. The company said it first learned of a ruptured inflator in 2003 when one was found in a vehicle in Switzerland.
The bags rupture in part because of the materials Takata used and to a lesser degree because of problems in manufacturing, according to the reports. A combination of time, exposure to moisture and fluctuating temperatures created the highest risk to making the air bag’s ammonium nitrate unstable.
Takata, in an emailed statement, said its chief concern is the safety of the driving public.
“We extend our sincerest apologies to those who have been affected by the inflator failures,” the company said. “As outlined in the report delivered to NHTSA, Takata has focused extensive resources on researching and testing of air bag inflators, including working with independent, world class, technical experts to identify the causes of the inflator failures as they arose and taking action based on the best available understanding.”
Many of the replacement Takata inflators also rely on the chemical, which other air bag manufacturers have avoided using due to safety questions.
“It’s clear that there are as lot of people who want new air bags but can’t get them,” said Sean Kane, president and founder of Safety Research and Strategies Inc., a safety advocate in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. “They can’t get alternative transportation while they wait and get no remuneration to rent a car.”
The 70 million Takata airbag inflators are scheduled for replacement between now and 2019, staggered in order of risk due to parts availability. A little more than one-third of the fully launched recalls have been performed.
Motorists can see if their vehicle is under recall at www.safercar.gov/checkforrecalls.
Takata has been accused of giving false data to carmakers, in particular Honda Motor Co., its largest customer, who sold cars with the company’s air bags and the NHTSA has already hit the parts maker with fines to the tune of millions of dollars.
Takata faces billions in potential recall costs and is currently seeking a buyer.
The company has received bids from potential suitors including buyout firm KKR & Co. and Japanese peer Daicel Corp. as it faces mounting liabilities related to its record recalls, according to people familiar with the matter.
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