The Takata airbag saga continues as the recall expands to include an astounding 34 million cars and trucks. That’s about one in seven vehicles on U.S. highways. As we have previously reported, these vehicles were recalled because Takata air bags can blast shrapnel when deployed and have led to more than 100 injuries and at least eight known deaths. Unfortunately for consumers, Takata has been slow to implement the recalls and release details about the problem, but very quick to shift blame.
Toyota has said that it is recalling an additional 1.37 million vehicles in the U.S. that contain Takata-made front passenger air bag inflators. This brings the total number of Toyota vehicles recalled in the U.S. due to problems with the Takata air bags to 2.9 million. A day earlier, Honda Motor Co. Ltd. said that it was recalling 1 million additional Civics and Accords equipped with the air bags, bringing the number of vehicles in Honda’s recalls of Takata air bag inflators in the U.S. to about 2.3 million. Mazda North America Operations had announced on June 5 that it was adding 540,000 cars and trucks in the U.S. and Canada to the millions of vehicles recalled over the air bag defect.
Then on June 25 Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. announced that they will recall 3 million more vehicles made with the air bag maker’s inflators globally. Toyota will expand its recalls, previously limited to North America, to include the rest of the world. This means the defective passenger side air bag inflators made by Takata are in another 23 models, or 2.86 million vehicles, in China, Japan and Europe.
Nissan is recalling another 198,131 vehicles globally after its May 20 recall of cars equipped with the inflator in North America. Both automakers said that they will replace the impacted vehicles’ air bag inflators. The total number of automobiles in the recall, now at 34 million as of the end of May, makes this the largest recall of its kind, and that number continues to rise.
A Takata executive told the U.S. Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last month that the company still hasn’t nailed down a definitive cause for the explosive air bag defect, even though it has been blamed for eight deaths and the largest automotive recall in history, and that is hard to understand. An insult to the American public came about during the Congressional hearing. A comment by one Congressman is particularly enlightening as to Takata’s approach to solving this deadly problem, “We’ve got a young lady sitting over your shoulder bearing the scars of a mistake that was made, and we’re still not getting the answers,” said Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), pointing to an audience member injured by a defective air bag. “We’re doing a recall and replacing parts with parts that are still faulty. There’s no excuse for that,” he added.
Despite their engineers acknowledging that the cheap propellant was certainly a part of the problem, Takata has not stopped using the propellant ammonium nitrate in airbags. Ammonium nitrate is known to be susceptible to becoming unstable when exposed to heat and humidity. Takata engineers even admit that this characteristic of ammonium nitrate should have prevented it from ever being used in cars. Fortunately, the company has agreed to transition away from the dangerous propellant in favor of guanidine nitrate, which is less susceptible to environmental factors.
Transitioning away from something that could take the life of an unassuming consumer simply isn’t enough. Use of this dangerous chemical propellant should be halted. “I couldn’t believe what they were telling me. They were still making an airbag with ammonium nitrate as a propellant and without a desiccant,” said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, who chaired the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade subcommittee hearing on the Takata recalls.
Takata appeared before a Senate committee on June 23 and much of what was said during the hearing appeared to be just more of the same. Kevin Kennedy, a Takata executive, admitted that the company still doesn’t have a definitive cause for the airbag defect. Senators accused Takata of actively concealing the defect that affects 11 car manufacturers’ vehicles. The internal emails that were uncovered and made public appear to badly hurt Takata’s already damaged image and its credibility. The emails indicate the air bag supplier had paused global safety audits from 2009-11 for “financial reasons” even though its manufacturing plants faced quality control problems for more than a decade.
A Takata senior vice president said in a 2011 email that “Global safety audits had stopped for financial reasons for last 2 years,” according to findings by the Democratic minority of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which issued its report on June 22.
The congressional report detailed a timeline of Takata air bag inflators rupturing, starting from a 2003 incident in Switzerland that involved a BMW, which the auto parts company characterized as an isolated case. There was an accident the following year in Alabama that involved a 2002 Honda Accord, and three more that Honda alerted Takata to in 2007, after which Takata found that the rupture could have been caused by a manufacturing process that increased moisture in the propellant, which can make it more dangerous during combustion.
We call on Takata to do right by the American people who expect these dangerous airbags to protect them and their families. If you would like more information about the Takata recalls or anything relating to the air-bag problems, contact Chris Glover, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury/Product Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Chris.Glover@beasleyallen.com.
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