US regulators have more than doubled the size of the recall of Takata vehicle airbags — already the biggest vehicle recall campaign ever — by saying a further 35m to 40m airbag inflators will eventually need to be replaced because of a potentially deadly fault.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced the expansion, as well as the speeding up of the process for some of the 28.8m airbags already under recall, after completing a series of scientific tests. The tests were to determine why some airbags manufactured by the Japanese company have a tendency to explode when deploying, sending shrapnel into drivers’ and passengers’ faces.
The fault has been linked to at least 10 deaths in the US and more than 100 injuries.
The existing recalls cover airbags that use ammonium nitrate as the accelerant to make it inflate on deployment. The further 35m to 40m inflators expands the recall to all Takata ammonium nitrate airbags in the US that lack a chemical known as a desiccant to keep the ammonium nitrate dry.
The NHTSA has so far found no cases where inflators including a desiccant exploded but Takata will need to conduct research to prove that those inflators remain safe.
The airbags will be recalled in phases depending on the level of danger they present. The first new bags will be recalled this month and the last in December 2019.
The latest recall is an further blow to Takata, which had already, according to reports, estimated the likely cost of the fault at $ 24bn. The problem affected products worldwide but has received most attention in the US. The fault has also been linked to a death in Malaysia.
The Japanese company said it had “agreed to accept and support the expanded recalls respecting Takata’s and NHTSA’s shared interest towards future safety and restoring public confidence”.
Anthony Foxx, US transportation secretary, said the action was a “significant step” in his department’s “aggressive oversight” of Takata on behalf of drivers and passengers.
“The acceleration of this recall is based on scientific evidence and will protect all Americans from air bag inflators that may become unsafe,” he said.
The recall will be prioritised according to vehicles’ ages, the inflator design and whether or not the vehicles have been kept in places whose temperatures cause the inflators to deteriorate particularly quickly. The most serious incidents have nearly all involved vehicles kept for long periods in areas such as Texas’s Gulf coast and Florida that have especially high levels of humidity.
Mark Rosekind, the NHTSA administrator, said the research had shown the inflators involved became unsafe over time and deteriorated faster when exposed to humidity and variations in temperature.
The NHTSA’s research suggests that airbags kept in the highest-humidity and hottest areas can become unsafe after between six and nine years. In areas of medium heat and humidity, the period is 10 to 15 years, while in the lowest-risk areas the danger develops after 15 to 20 years.
The number of vehicles recalled will be lower than the number of inflators, since some vehicles involved will have affected airbags on both the driver’s and passenger’s side. The vehicles concerned cover a wide range of makes and models. But Japan’s Honda, one of Takata’s biggest customers, has been particularly badly affected.
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