Feds move to quicken pace of Takata air bag repairs

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is moving to accelerate the pace of repairs to cars that have faulty air bag inflators made by Japanese supplier Takata.

The agency said Friday that Takata must provide replacement parts “on an accelerated basis and made available first to the riskiest vehicles.” Nearly 70 million air bags with defective inflators have been recalled. Flying shrapnel from exploding inflators made by the company has been tied to 11 deaths and approximately 180 injuries in the United States, and at least one more death outside the U.S.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the new order is evidence that “the Department of Transportation is maintaining its aggressive oversight of the efforts to recall Takata air bags as quickly as possible.

“The amended order will speed up the availability of replacement air bags, and continues to prioritize the highest risk vehicles to protect the traveling public,” Foxx said.

The recall of nearly 70 million Takata air bag inflators is being conducted in phrases that target the must vulnerable cars that are located in humid climates. It is the largest automotive callback in U.S. history. Approximately 46 million Takata air bags in 29 million cars are already current subject to recall, with another 20 to 25 million additional air bags set to recalled with the next couple of years.

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.

NHTSA says the recall of defective air bag inflators made by Takata will now involve 19 vehicle manufacturers and about 42 million cars in the U.S when it is completed. The agency says nearly 12.5 million Takata air bags have been repaired thus far, as of Dec. 2, 2016.

Takata has been under fire since issuing a recall in late 2014 of about 8 million cars in areas of the country with high humidity. Humid conditions cause propellant in Takata’s inflators to become unstable and explode with excessive force. The recall was later expanded to include nearly 70 million air bags after federal regulators put pressure on Takata to expand warnings beyond areas of the country where weather conditions are humid.

NHTSA and Takata have faced intense criticism for the pace of repairs to vehicles that have faulty air bags.

“I’m glad that NHTSA has finally released a more complete list of vehicles and repair timeline for this snail’s paced recall,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement released after NHTSA’s announcement on Friday. “But the fact remains that a number of these dangerous airbags won’t be replaced until the next decade. Drivers should not have to wait that long to get what could be a ticking time bomb out of their cars.”

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said his agency “is doing everything possible to make sure that there are no more preventable injuries or deaths because of these dangerous air bag inflators.

“All vehicle owners should regularly check their vehicles for recalls at and go get them fixed at no cost as soon as replacement parts are available,” he said.

Takata said in a statement to The Detroit News that it “is working closely with other inflator manufacturers, regulators, the independent monitor and our automotive customers to supply replacement kits as efficiently as possible, and has dramatically ramped up production and capacity of air bag replacement kits in advance of the increased demand that will come as additional recalls take effect.”

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing