Hundreds of Takata Corp. airbag inflators pulled from cars in the auto industry’s biggest recall later ruptured in testing, showing the potential risks to drivers.
Documents released Friday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveal that of 245,000 recalled airbag inflators pulled from cars and tested, 660 ruptured. As many as 15 deaths worldwide have been linked to the components, which can rupture and shoot shards at vehicle occupants.
The test results illustrate the risk to consumers who do not bring their cars in to have repairs performed or own vehicles that are not old enough to be eligible for the current round of replacement. Testing has shown that the inflators degrade over time, so Takata has been repairing older cars first while replacement parts are being manufactured.
"You have to start where you see the highest risk," said Jared Levy, a spokesman for Sard Verbinnen & Co., which has been hired to speak for Takata.
The reports filed Friday by Takata were required under a consent order signed last year with NHTSA. They include technical assessments by outside consultants as well as a summary produced by the Tokyo-based company. The company said it first learned of a ruptured inflator in 2003 when one was found in a vehicle in Switzerland.
The bags rupture in part because of the materials Takata used and to a lesser degree because of problems in manufacturing, according to the reports. A combination of time, exposure to moisture and fluctuating temperatures created the highest risk to making the airbag’s ammonium nitrate unstable.
Many of the replacement Takata inflators also rely on the chemical, which other airbag manufacturers have avoided using due to safety questions.
Takata, in an e-mailed statement, said its chief concern is the safety of the driving public.
“We extend our sincerest apologies to those who have been affected by the inflator failures,” the company said. “As outlined in the report delivered to NHTSA, Takata has focused extensive resources on researching and testing of airbag inflators, including working with independent, world-class technical experts to identify the causes of the inflator failures as they arose and taking action based on the best available understanding.”
“It’s clear that there are a lot of people who want new airbags but can’t get them,” said Sean Kane, president and founder of Safety Research and Strategies Inc., a safety advocate in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. “They can’t get alternative transportation while they wait and get no renumeration to rent a car.”
Honda said after NHTSA issued the reports that it’s investigating any potential problems with some other airbag inflators that it started using from Takata in 2011, and which have not been recalled. So far, Honda has not had any ruptures with those airbags, which have a moisture absorbing material.
Honda is also looking at some airbags as part of the second phase of its audit of Takata. Those airbags were installed in vehicles sold outside the U.S. and Canada, the statement. said.
A Takata spokesman did not return an e-mail seeking comment after the Honda statement was released.
About 70 million Takata airbag inflators are scheduled for replacement between now and 2019, staggered in order of risk due to parts availability. A little more than a third of the fully launched recalls have been performed. Motorists can see if their vehicle is under recall at www.safercar.gov/checkforrecalls.
Takata has been accused of giving false data to carmakers it supplied, in particular Honda Motor Co., its largest customer. NHTSA has already hit the parts maker with millions of dollars in fines.
Takata faces billions in potential recall costs and is seeking a buyer. The company has received bids from potential suitors, including buyout firm KKR & Co. and Japanese peer Daicel Corp., as it faces mounting liabilities related to its record recalls, according to people familiar with the matter.
(Updates with Honda statement in the 11th paragraph.)
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