With a Congressional hearing looming, developments in the Takata airbag crisis continued exploding as the week ended. As of Friday, six automakers expanded their list of recalled models, adding nearly 7 million vehicles to the 33.8 million already feeling the impact of the growing issue. The total number of vehicles included in this recall now stands at 40.6 million. This growth had been expected in the wake of Takata’s action a week ago in which it acknowledged a defect exists in their airbag inflator. The airbag manufacturer made the disclosure in a consent decree with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The new figure includes the following announcements:
- BMW which added 420,000, 2002-05 3-Series models, 2002-2003 5-series models and 2003-04 X5 crossovers as it added driver-side front airbags to the recall list.
- Chrysler (Fiat Chrysler Automotive) which added a total of 4.1 million cars and truck models manufactured from 2003 to 2011 as it added passenger- and driver-side airbags to the recall list. The carmaker also noted that if a customer had already returned a vehicle for repairs then the vehicle had to be returned again to a dealership for new repairs.
- Ford which added 1.3 million, 2004-06 Ranger mid-sized pickups and 2005-14 Mustangs and 2005-06 Mustang GTs as it added driver-side airbags to the recall list.
- General Motors which added 375,000 2007-08 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups to the recall list.
- Mitsubishi which added 82,784 2004-06 Lancer models as it added passenger-side airbags to the recall list.
- Subaru which added 80,000 2004-05 Imprezas to the recall list.
The individual automakers listed their recall numbers on the NHTSA website www.safercar.gov.
Meanwhile, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce plans to begin hearings Tuesday on the whole Takata airbag issue. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chair of the Energy and Commerce panel, whose panel slammed safety regulators for their handling of the General Motors ignition switch recall, was critical again of the entire Takata recall process saying that answers had to come now, not in the future regarding vehicles feeling the impact of the exploding airbag recall. Further, he noted, Thursday, in announcing the Tuesday morning hearing, that it was time that the public received answers about the process. Rep. Upton was critical of the NHTSA, Takata and automakers.
In another development, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said Friday that he believed the action against Takata will be positive. He noted, in a report by Automotive News, that he thought the process of finding answers in the airbag recall process would be speeded by Takata’s recent agreement with NHTSA. In that agreement, Takata said there was a defect in its airbag inflators. (The defective inflators deploy with too much force, shattering their housing and turning the housing into shrapnel that scythes through the passenger compartment, sometimes with deadly effect.)
Reuters, reporting another development on this ongoing recall, noted that Takata is apparently trying to widen its sole responsibility for the recalls by dragging in carmakers. According to sources familiar with the issue, the airbag manufacturer, apparently the recall’s strain, wants carmakers to share some of the blame for the recall and to pick up some of the costs.
In another development, the Japanese Ministry of Transportation has reported 12 “incorrect deployments” of Takata-made airbags since 2011, the Nikkei newspaper reported Friday. The newspaper said the ministry had had no reports of injuries related to the deployments.
With the latest announcements hiking the number of vehicles involved in the recall well past the 40-million car mark, the Takata airbag inflator recall continues to blast its way through the automotive world. Consumers are concerned that the airbags in their vehicles could be dangerous and are seeking all of the information they can find on this recall which began with reports of exploding airbag problems as long ago as 2001. The reports continued through the middle part of the last decade until the NHTSA determined there was substance to them in 2008 and ordered the first recalls begun. Since then millions of vehicles have been steadily added to the recall.
Even though millions of vehicles are included in the recall, neither the airbag manufacturer nor automakers or safety regulators can be sure that the airbags now being installed in vehicles are fully reliable. Takata and NHTSA have said they are, but there are still questions out there that will likely remain unanswered until the exact cause is found. There are three investigations now looking for the cause, one run by Takata, one by a consortium of 10 automakers and one by Honda, also a member of the consortium, which is seeking its own answer independently. So far, all the probes seem to be looking at the propellant as the cause. Takata has added vehicle design to the mix, as well.
Meanwhile, NHTSA is also working on the issue as well as considering whether to take full control of the process under its power to redirect repair resources to areas where they are needed. The agency can also direct parts suppliers to increase airbag supplies to assist Takata and the auto industry.
Exploding airbag inflators have so far claimed six lives and have injured more than 100 in accidents around the world. The issue has had an overwhelming impact on Honda as its primary airbag supplier, until about two months ago, was Takata. On the other hand, the injuries have been reported in vehicles made by other manufacturers, as well as Honda.