In an effort to speed up the historic Takata airbag recall announced just days ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is moving to effectively take control of the effort by ordering airbag suppliers to increase the supplies of replacement parts and by directing them to where they are most needed. The airbag inflator recall was turned on its head Tuesday when Takata, the manufacturer that for months had stonewalled the agency, made its previously limited airbag inflator recall a national program. The airbag manufacturer agreed in a consent order that a defect did, indeed exist, in its airbags. In turn, the acknowledgment doubled the number of vehicles needed to be recalled from 17 to nearly 34 million. It is now the largest safety recall in history.
Because of the recall’s size and impact, the agency moved to invoke a never-before-used power that allows the agency to require that parts supplies be increased to meet major demands. The power will allow the agency to direct the recall so that needed resources will go where they are most needed. The agency was granted the power to redirect resources and require additional resources be built and made available in 2000. NHTSA made its intention known that it is seeking to coordinate and direct the recall effort because the current effort, agency chief Mark Rosekind believes, is fragmented and too slow.
The agency acted yesterday to begin the legal steps necessary to invoke the power with a filing in the Federal Register. The agency is acting not only because of the scope of the radically expanded Takata airbag inflator recall but also because of the fragmented nature of the recall plans in place. At the moment, each of the 11 auto manufacturers has an individual plan to meet the requirements of the recall. While they are essentially the same – owners who are notified their cars are recalled must return them to their dealers for a check and free replacement, if the device is defective – the individual requirements are enough to create a “patchwork solution that NHTSA believes may not adequately address the safety risks” presented by the defective Takata-made airbag inflators quickly enough, Rosekind wrote in the Federal Register filing.
As part of its action, according to Automotive News, the agency is also seeking input on:
- How best to handle the recall
- Whether it should speed up the recall
- How a speed-up can be done
According to an agency spokesman, NHTSA will be plans meetings of affected manufacturers, Takata and other airbag suppliers as part of our coordinated remedy proceeding. The process will also offer a chance for public comment that we will take into consideration. Our plan is to bring together all these players in search for the best solutions to ensure a safe airbag in every American vehicle as soon as possible.”
Now that the recall has doubled into the largest safety recall in history, a supply chain that was already straining to meet more modest goals has been put under increased strain by Takata’s action. In expanding its options, NHTSA is trying to ease the strain and meet the needs of the exploded airbag recall. At the moment, Takata is making 500,000 airbag repair kits per month with a goal of expanding to 1 million in four months. To date, it has made an extra 3.2 million repair kits to meet earlier recall actions. Other suppliers – Daicel, Autoliv and TRW – have stepped up or are planning stepped up output to meet the needs.
Since Takata and safety officials reached their agreement expanding the recall Tuesday concerned people have been hitting the NHTSA website, www.safercar.gov, in heavy numbers. At one point this week, nearly 1 million calls per day were slowing access to the site as worried car owners sought information on the recall and its effects on their vehicles. The products of a total of 11 carmakers have been included in the erupting recall. They include:
- General Motors
The ongoing airbag inflator recall began in 2008 as the first reports reached federal regulators regarding potential problems with Takata-made airbags. As many as 17 million vehicles were affected by the original and later recalls. The most recent recall, launched last year, was limited to high-humidity regions of the country, the southern and southwestern states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii and the Pacific Trust Islands (Guam, Saipan and others).
Early studies of airbag failures suggested that the inflator igniter/propellant, ammonium nitrate, was, at least, part of the cause. The studies pointed to moisture as the cause. Moisture causes the deterioration. As it deteriorates, the ammonium nitrate destabilizes and becomes more powerful, causing overpressure in the inflator housing. In turn, the inflator housing can shatter, hurling shrapnel-like pieces throughout the interior of the vehicle. So far, six deaths have been attributed to the faulty inflators and more than 100 injuries have also been linked to the failure. Honda vehicles, by far, has been the most hard-hit by the issue because Takata was Honda’s primary supplier of airbags and components.