NHTSA to hold hearing on Takata air bag oversight

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau
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Alexandria, Virginia — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will hold a public meeting Thursday as the agency decides whether to take control of the record-setting recall covering 23.4 million Takata air bags in nearly 20 million vehicles built by 11 major automakers.

The hearing will lay out the status of the government’s more than 15-month investigation into exploding front air bags that are linked to at least eight deaths and more than 100 injuries. Propellant in the bags can explode with too much force and send metal fragments flying.

NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind said he expects the agency will decide by Thanksgiving whether to take control of the massive recalls and lay out options for what steps the agency could take. He said NHTSA will lay out a “plan” Thursday and “lay out the arguments” for why it should step in.

The agency has said different remedy programs by each automaker created a patchwork solution that it believes may not adequately address the safety risks. The agency expects to prioritize the use of air bags to focus on the highest-risk vehicles. “When we’re ready and actually have all that in place we’ll come up with dates of when all the supplies have to be available and then when they actually have to be in cars,” Rosekind said.

Last week, General Motors said it would recall about 400 side air bags that could rupture. In August, NHTSA said it was investigating the rupture of a Takata inflator in a side air bag in a 2015 Volkswagen Tiguan.

GM’s recall was prompted by the rupture of a side air bag in a cold-weather test. One day after Takata notified GM of the failure, GM began working to trace the inflators from the same batch and issued a recall two days later.

“We try and have a pretty big world view of what these (air bag issues) are. No, it would not surprise me if people earlier and faster deal with these issues,” Rosekind told reporters this week.

In 2014, 10 automakers announced they had recalled 17 million cars and trucks with faulty Takata air bags: Ford Motor Co., GM, Honda Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co., BMW AG, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Mazda Motor Corp., Mitsubishi and Subaru Motors USA. They issued callbacks even as Takata refused to declare the parts defective. An 11th automaker — Daimler Trucks North America — was added this year. All deaths have been in Hondas.

NHTSA last month sent letters to seven more automakers that use Takata air bags: Volkswagen AG, Tesla Motors Inc., Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz unit, Jaguar Land Rover, Suzuki Motor Corp., Volvo Trucks and Spartan Motors. The letters ask the automakers how many vehicles have Takata air bag inflators, and whether they are considering recalls.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Detroit — aided by the FBI, a federal grand jury and Justice Department prosecutors in Washington — is investigating whether Takata violated the law in failing to disclose problems.

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