Takata, Honda, Chrysler to testify at air bag hearing
Washington — – The deputy chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and executives from Takata Corp., Honda Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC and a victim of a Texas air bag deployment will testify Thursday before a Senate panel.
The Senate Commerce Committee is investigating the recalls since 2013 of 7.8 million vehicles in the United States from 10 major automakers for air bag inflators that could explode and cause metal fragments to hit drivers and passengers. The defect is linked to five deaths worldwide in Hondas — including four in the United States — and at least 30 injuries. A small number of injuries has been reported in other vehicles.
The Senate panel will hear from NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman; Scott Kunselman, senior vice president for vehicle safety and regulatory compliance at Chrysler Group LLC; Rick Schostek, executive vice president at Honda North America; and Stephanie Erdman, who was badly injured in a September 2013 crash in a Honda Civic in Florida. Takata’s witness and another potential witness from Republicans haven’t been named yet, the committee said.
Most of the vehicles are regional recalls limited to high-humidity areas, but members of Congress want to know why the recalls aren’t nationwide. Honda’s recalls include some warm-weather states that other automakers don’t include.
Last week, Takata, the embattled Japanese air bag manufacturer, said it has received a federal grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York. The company — which faces an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — said Thursday in a financial disclosure document that it faces a federal probe.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, who will chair the hearing, said some some automakers are dragging their feet in making fixes. He also criticized NHTSA, saying last week the agency “has not been right upfront, forward-leading and aggressive to protect the public.”
Chrysler said last week it will start replacing air bag inflators on 371,000 vehicles next month on vehicles sold or currently registered in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after a report of a single non-life threatening injury in Florida in a 2006 Dodge Charger. Chrysler said its tests on inflators recovered from vehicles in Florida show they are working.
The White House is preparing to nominate a new NHTSA administrator, which could be announced before the hearing. The position has been unfilled for 11 months and the department has been run by Friedman.
Last week, Honda announced a fifth death in Malaysia that occurred in July is related to the problem as it issued a new recall for more than 170,000 vehicles outside the United States. The four previous deaths were reported in the United States.
Ford Motor Co. announced it would expand its recall of 25,000 Ranger pickups to both the passenger and driver-side air bags because of a similar design of the inflator involved in the Malaysian incident. Ford is aware of only one report of a injury related to a Takata air bag in a 2007 Ford Mustang.