Takata ramps up air bag inflator production

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Japanese air bag supplier Takata Corp. told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration it is ramping up production to produce air bag inflator replacement kits, but said it will take months to produce enough parts to address recalls of millions of cars by 10 major automakers.

NHTSA sent an urgent warning to owners of 7.8 million cars at 10 major automakers last week after reports of four deaths in Honda vehicles since 2009. High humidity is believed to be linked to faulty air bags in crashes that sent metal fragments into vehicle occupants causing serious injuries and at least two deaths.

In documents posted on NHTSA’s website, Takata told the auto safety agency on Sept. 16 that through August it had produced 132,000 replacement air bag inflator kits, and expected to have produced 830,000 air bag inflator kits by the end of October. The chart accompanying the report said the agency expects to complete at least 1.47 million replacement air bags by February, out of at least 4.34 million needed.

Takata spokesman Alby Berman said the company is moving aggressively to ramp up production to build inflator replacement kits. Since Sept. 16, Takata has continued to ramp up the production rate, but Berman didn’t immediately announce a new schedule. The company, which has its North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, plans to update its production schedule as soon as later this week.

Takata told NHTSA that the there is a shortage of wire harnesses, and that supplier capacity issues are being resolved. Takata is doing extensive testing at its engineering facility in Armada, Michigan, and at a Honda facility in Ohio.

Berman said Takata has not been contacted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York. The Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors in New York — who are investigating General Motors Co. over whether it misled federal regulators — have opened a similar preliminary investigation into Takata. Takata is facing a class-action lawsuit over the air bags filed in Florida this week.

The company said it had received 4,109 inflator kits from completed recalls through Sept. 15 — most from Florida — as it investigates the extent of the problem. More than 16 million vehicles worldwide have been recalled with faulty Takata air bags since 2008.

NHTSA said last week it has been in talks with Takata to expand production and to try to work with other inflator suppliers to see if they can supplement production.

“We have taken an aggressive and relatively unprecedented step by forcing a regional recall on limited information, and we will not rest until we know the full geographic scope of the problem,” said Transportation Department spokesman Brian Farber.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Transportation Department review of NHTSA’s efforts is geared to ensure the agency is improving. NHTSA came under harsh criticism from senators in July at a hearing on its response to General Motors Co. recall of 2.6 million vehicles linked to at least 30 deaths.

NHTSA opened an investigation in June into 1.1 million vehicles equipped with Takata air bags.

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce said it is reviewing the Takata air bag recalls and some senators want Takata and the automakers to immediately expand the air bag recalls nationwide.

NHTSA said last week that because there is a limited supply of replacement air bags, if a national recall were issued despite evidence indicating the problem is not happening nationally, it would divert the supply of air bags from those most at risk in Florida and on the Gulf Coast.