Automotive airbag maker Takata Corp. has agreed today to declare 33.8 million of its inflator mechanisms defective. The announcement basically doubles the number of cars and trucks that have been recalled in the U.S. so far.
The problem with the defective Takata airbags is that they may inflate with too much force, blowing apart a metal canister and spraying metal shrapnel into the passenger compartment with enough force to injure or kill vehicle occupants. The airbags are responsible for six deaths worldwide and more than 100 injuries.
The announcement was made by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which reached an agreement with Takata after scuffling with the company for the past year over the size of the recalls and the root cause of the problem with millions of airbags. It will be the largest recall in the agency’s history.
In the meantime, all the automakers with cars that have Takata airbag inflators began their own national recalls. Takata’s affected customers in the U.S. market include Honda, Nissan, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Toyota, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, Mazda, Ford and General Motors. Together, they have—so far—recalled 17 million vehicles in the U.S. and more than 36 million worldwide because of the problem.
Interestingly, just last week, Honda, Toyota and Nissan recalled more than 11.5 million cars worldwide. First Toyota and Nissan recalled 6.5 million vehicles worldwide. The next day, Honda recalled close to 5 million vehicles fitted with potentially faulty Takata airbag inflators.
At this point, two elements really stand out. The first is that the agreement may speed the process of resolving the global airbag inflator crisis. Takata, its automaker customers and U.S. regulators have had trouble getting to the root cause of the problem, and millions of customers are still unable to get their cars fixed due to a shortage of replacement parts.
Recall repairs have been slow since Takata has been unable to meet demand for replacement inflators. As of last month, Honda said it had fixed 19 percent of the recalled inflators—even though some of the recalls date to 2013. Last week, Honda announced it would use replacement parts supplied by Takata competitors Autoliv and Daicel, as well as by Takata itself.
Secondly, there remains quite a bit of animosity over the way Takada officials have handled the whole situation. For example, NHTSA in February began fining Takata $14,000 a day for not completely answering questions about airbag inflator production and company efforts to investigate the explosions. The fines are reported to have reached about $1 million. Takata has denied it wasn’t cooperating fully with the investigation.
“Takata should have been much more aggressive before now in protecting passengers through a national recall,” says Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, a recent BloombergBusiness article reports. “In the meantime the Department of Justice should be taking appropriate action to investigate and impose penalties.”
Then again, Takata also faces multiple class-action lawsuits in the U.S. and Canada. An article last fall in Japan Today even reports one lawyer involved in a class-action lawsuit has said “Rather than take the issue head-on and immediately do everything in their power to prevent further injury and loss of life, Takata and Honda have engaged in a 10-year pattern of deception and obfuscation.”
The biggest challenge may well be one of supply and demand. If Takata has struggled producing replacement parts so far, it surely will have production issues now that the number of effected vehicles will double. What impact do you see this having on the automotive supply chain?