The investigation into exploding automotive airbags from Takata—and subsequent recalls—continues to grow in complexity. Not only is the number of involved vehicles rising, but federal officials are now contemplating orders to speed the production of replacement parts.
The problem with exploding Takata airbag inflators continues to spread to newer vehicles. This time, the defective airbags are found in 2015 General Motors cars and SUVs. As a result, GM is recalling more than 400 vehicles because the side airbag inflators may explode and injure drivers and passengers, according to the company and documents posted by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, reports an Associated Press article.
Consequently, U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) officials say the agency may expand the largest vehicle recall in U.S. history as the probe into exploding airbags continues. The defective Takata airbags 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. Ruptured Takata airbags have killed eight people worldwide and injured more than 100 people.
NHTSA investigators acknowledge that, while the exact cause of the exploding air bags remains a mystery, their probe continues, an article in USA Today reports. The investigators have determined, however, that vehicles which have been driven in hot, humid climates for at least five years are most at risk. This finding suggests that climate is a contributing factor in the malfunctioning airbag inflators, regulators say.
So far, the agency has ordered a recall of 19 million vehicles—14 million of which are from BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Honda and Mazda. The rest are from General Motors, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota and Daimler.
The problem with the recall is that production of replacement airbag inflators and the harnesses used to mount the devices is only proceeding at a rate of about 2.8 million units per month, the USA Today article notes. Incidentally, other airbag manufacturers are making about 70 percent of the parts to aid Takata in speeding the repairs. The result though, is that because there are more defective inflators than replacement parts available, regulators are prioritizing replacements based on a number of risk factors—including the age of the inflator and its long-term exposure to humidity and heat, which increases the likelihood of a rupture.
“To speak plainly, the nearly 23 million replacement inflators needed simply won’t be available within the next month, or even the next six months,” NHTSA Office of Defects Investigations Director Frank Borris says in an ABC News report.
NHTSA encourages all consumers—but especially the six million drivers living in high-risk, high humidity areas along the Gulf Coast and in Florida and Puerto Rico, where the majority of the ruptures occurred—to take the recalls seriously. However, because there aren’t enough available replacement parts, NHTSA also explains some drivers will have to begin with an interim fix. That fix is to replace the defective part with a newer version of the same defective inflator—and then follow-up with a permanent fix when parts become available, ABC News reports.
Finally, in what is perhaps the most surprising news, NHTSA officials also say they are considering forcing automakers to accelerate repairs of the Takata airbags. NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind said at an informational hearing in Washington, D.C., that he would make a decision about requiring faster recalls by Thanksgiving, the USA Today article reports. The agency may also expand the number of vehicles and manufacturers involved in the recall at that time.
“That’s part of what the investigation is looking at: Whether or not we have to go further,” Rosekind says.
Considering the sheer number of recalled vehicles, it’s understandable that there is a lag in replacement part availability. One must wonder though, how companies would be forced to produce parts faster. And as a follow up, what would happen to companies which failed to increase production fast enough?