Senator: Automakers selling cars with faulty air bags

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is accusing Fiat Chrysler, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Volkswagen and Honda of selling cars that have air bags made by Japanese supplier Takata that have been recalled because of defective inflators.

Nelson, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate’s Commerce Committee, said Wednesday the automakers have admitted to equipping some of their newest vehicles with the same kind of air bag inflators that are under recall, which he said “have been found to be the cause of air bag ruptures linked to as many as 13 deaths and 100 injuries worldwide.”

The Florida Democrat said some of the models that could have defective air bags are the 2016-17 Mitsubishi i-MiEV, 2016 Volkswagen CC, 2016 Audi TT and 2017 Audi R8.

“What’s troubling here is that consumers are buying new cars not realizing they’re going to be recalled,” Nelson said in a statement about the report he released on Wednesday. “These cars shouldn’t be sold until they’re fixed.”

Fiat Chrysler said it “is not equipping any new vehicles with components that are currently subject to recall.”

Honda said it has three current models that have Takata air bags that are different than the type that have been recalled, but the company said no new Hondas or Acuras are being built in the U.S. with the faulty parts that have been found to rupture.

Toyota said it “is phasing out the use of Takata air bag inflators” that are similar to the ones that have been recalled. The company noted that the inflators that are still in use in its cars “are not subject to a current recall.”

Mitsubishi said its cars that have Takata air bags have inflators that have not yet been declared defective, although the company admitted “current understanding is that Takata will file with NHTSA a Defect Information Report applicable to these inflators in December 2018.”

The company said it is “currently working with an air bag inflator supplier to develop and provide” a non-Takata inflator that does not rely on the same substance that has been problematic in the Japanese suppliers parts. It said it expects those inflators will be available during the first quarter of 2017.”

VW said it is “following the guidelines, as established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), to replace affected Takata air bags” that are equipped with defective inflators.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has recalled nearly 70 million Takata air bags after the safety agency confirmed the cause behind the inflators’ propensity to rupture, especially in humid climates. Flying shrapnel from exploding Takata inflators has been tied to 11 deaths — possibly 13 deaths — and more than 100 injuries worldwide.

Takata has been ordered to recall all of the faulty air bags by the end of 2019. The recall is being implemented in a phased approach that prioritizes cars that were sold in states with high temperature and humidity. Michigan is among the lowest-priority states in the recall.

Nelson said Toyota “did not provide specific years and models,” but he said the Japanese company told him it “expects to produce approximately 175,000 unspecified vehicles with the defective Takata inflators between March 2016 and July 2017.”

He added, “Fiat Chrysler stated that at least one of its current models contains a frontal passenger-side air bag that uses the non-desiccated ammonium-nitrate inflators. A fifth automaker, Honda, in their initial response stated that 17,000 new vehicles are equipped with non-desiccated inflators. However, in a more recent phone conversation Honda told investigators that no new vehicles are or will be equipped with such inflators.”

Desiccants help dry the propellant in air bag inflators, making the compound more stable and less likely to explode with excessive force.

Nelson said Wednesday that automakers should stop selling cars that were built using the Takata company’s parts until the recall is completed.

Nelson’s accusations came the same day that Ford Motor Co. identified about 1.9 million vehicles equipped with defective Takata passenger-side front air bag inflators. The recall of those cars are among a doubling of the Takata air bag recall announced last month.

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing

Latest recalls

Ford Motor Co. recalled Wednesday these vehicles with with defective Takata passenger-side front air bag inflators:

■2007-10 Edge

■2006-11 Fusion

■2005-11 Mustang

■2007-11 Ranger

■2007-10 Lincoln MKX

■2006-11 Lincoln MKZ, Zephyr and Mercury Milan