Foxx dismisses concerns about air bag maker’s survival

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Tuesday dismissed concerns about Japanese supplier Takata’s ability to remain in business after its recall of defective air bag inflators was doubled to include approximately 35 million to 40 million more of the faulty parts.

He said he is confident the devices can still be fixed, whether or not the beleaguered company survives. He said Takata’s financial situation was not a part of the calculation about whether the initial recall of approximately 28 million of the parts needed to be expanded.

“That can’t be the top concern with this,” he said. “If the air bags need to be recalled, then we have a responsibility to recall them.”

Before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doubled the recall of air bags inflators made by Takata last week, the callback was already the largest automotive recall in U.S. history.

The decision to call back more air bags was announced last Wednesday after the safety agency confirmed the root cause behind the inflators’ propensity to rupture, especially in humid climates. Flying shrapnel from exploding Takata inflators has been tied to 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries in the United States, and at least one more death outside the U.S.

Analysts have said it could take years for all of the air bags to be replaced. Some have questioned whether the embattled company can survive the latest blow.

Foxx told reporters in Washington on Tuesday there are procedures in place for auto manufacturers that used Takata’s defective air bags in their cars to complete the fixes if the Japanese company goes under. He bristled at the idea that Takata’s survival should be a consideration for federal regulators who are charged with keeping U.S. drivers safe.

“The information I have is that there is capability to meet the demand based on the type of recall we’ve done,” Foxx said. “If for some reason Takata falls out of the equation, the manufacturers of the cars are still on the hook to ensure that the recalls happen, so there’s some redundancy there.”

The expansions mean all Takata air bags with an ammonium nitrate-based propellant that don’t have a chemical drying agent will be recalled.

The transportation chief estimated that the about 50 million Takata air bags that are still not covered on the recall should be OK: “At present, we don’t believe the science and evidence dictates a move to those other ones, but if it does, we will obviously not hesitate to move that way.”

Foxx said he thinks “one of the biggest challenges is just getting word out to the public and making sure people know to go and get their cars checked or to go and check your VIN number to see.”

Specific models in the latest recalls have been yet been released yet by the transportation department. NHTSA officials have said three additional carmakers are included: Tesla, Jaguar Land Rover and Fisker. That brings to 17 the number of vehicle manufacturers affected by air bag recalls, including including Fiat Chrysler, Honda and Toyota.

It could be a few weeks before a full list of affected vehicles is available. Carmakers must inventory which models and model-years had the faulty inflators installed.

NHTSA says only about 8.2 million of the nearly 29 million air bags that were originally called back had been repaired by April 22.

Foxx said Tuesday that he plans to keep the pressure on automakers to quickly repair cars that are affected by the air bag recall as the beleaguered company makes replacement parts available to their dealers.

“Until we get to all of them, I’m never satisfied,” he said. “ I think progress is being made, but we’ve got to keep our finger on it.”

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing