As the scope of the Takata airbag recall expands, it now seems its impact is broader and deeper than expected. Some automotive experts now predict it will take at least two years, and as many as five, to replace potentially defective Takata airbags.
Earlier this week, airbag manufacturer Takata agreed to declare 33.8 million of its inflator mechanisms defective, which doubles the number of vehicles that have been recalled in the U.S. so far. The defective Takata airbags may inflate with too much force, blowing apart a metal canister and spraying metal shrapnel into the passenger compartment. The airbags are responsible for six deaths worldwide and more than 100 injuries. The recalls affect vehicles from Honda, Nissan, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Toyota, BMW, Mazda, Ford, General Motors and others.
One of the problems is that demand for replacement airbags far exceeds Takata’s capacity. Takata says it has so far made just under four million of the replacement airbags, most of which have been installed. The manufacturer is currently building 500,000 replacement airbags a month, and expects to double that capacity by September.
In the meantime, Swedish parts maker Autoliv, the world’s largest airbag manufacturer, is also rushing to fill the demand, a CNN Money article reports. The company plans to build 25 million replacement airbags by the end of next year.
However, locating all the owners of the 34 million cars affected in the U.S. and getting them to take the cars in to dealers also presents a significant challenge. Plus it will be challenging for dealers to repair so many vehicles.
Compounding matters, approximately 25 percent to 30 percent of the cars will never be repaired, says Kevin Pollack, vice president for Stericycle ExpertSolutions, in the CNN Money article. That would leave about 10 million cars on the road with defective airbags. Some of the cars are nearly 15 years old and have had multiple owners, which makes identifying the current owners difficult, he says. Furthermore, given that the recall covers so many brands and roughly 60 different models, even car owners who have heard about the recall might not know if their car is affected.
What’s unusual is that since this is the largest recall in U.S. history, U.S. safety regulators want to take steps to manage the recall so cars may be fixed faster. Indeed, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration now says the recall involving 11 manufacturers has created a patchwork of solutions that may not fix the problem quickly enough, an AP article reports. Considering the sheer complexity of the recall, the agency has, for the first time, started the legal process asking for input on how it can control production, delivery and installation of replacement airbag inflators.
“The number of impacted vehicles and manufacturers in combination with the supply issues related to these airbag recalls adds a previously unprecedented level of complexity to this recall,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind wrote in papers posted Thursday in the Federal Register, the AP article reports.
To accelerate the recall process, NHTSA wants input from manufacturers on how it should order production of replacement parts from manufacturers other than Takata, how it should prioritize where the new parts should be sent first and whether the agency should schedule another recall of cars that have received replacements, according to the article. That’s because some of the replacement inflators are among those that Takata declared defective earlier this week.
Perhaps the largest issue is the question of what consumers think. Will the particular nature of the airbag recall prompt consumers to be more proactive in trying to get their vehicles fixed? Will the way dealers handle the recall have any lasting effect on consumer confidence?
What are your thoughts?