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Chrysler speeds up air bag notification

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Under government pressure, Chrysler Group LLC said Wednesday it will notify 317,000 owners of vehicles at risk of exploding air bags by Dec. 8 — which is 11 days ahead of schedule.

Also Wednesday, Chrysler told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration it will decide by Dec. 2 whether to expand its recall to a broader area of high-humidity areas.

"With respect to the expansion of the regions affected by the recall, we will immediately process this new request through our corporate committee charged with the authority to consider such decisions and will make a determination promptly following its review on Dec. 2," Chrysler safety chief Scott Kunselman wrote NHTSA.

The agency on Tuesday told the unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV it must expand the recall announced in June for risk of exploding air bags to a broader geographic area — and must alert owners by Dec. 1.

In a letter to Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne obtained by The Detroit News, NHTSA deputy chief David Friedman criticized the limited "geographic scope and the slow pace of the recall."

When inflators rupture, metal fragments are propelled toward occupants and can cause serious injuries or deaths.

"Chrysler's delay in notifying consumers and taking other actions necessary to address the safety defect identified is unacceptable and exacerbates the risk to motorists' safety," Friedman wrote.

Chrysler agreed to recall 371,000 2003-2008 Dodge Ram pickups, 2004-08 Dodge Durangos, 2007-08 Chrysler Aspens, 2005-08 Chrysler 300s, 2005-08 Dodge Dakota pickups and 2006-07 Mitsubishi Raider pickups. Since 2013, 10 automakers have recalled 7.8 million vehicles in the United States for Takata air bags that are linked to at least four deaths and 30 injuries in Hondas — mostly in high-humidity areas. Most other automakers have already begun repairs for the recalls announced in June.

Chrysler is limiting its recall to vehicles sold or registered in high humidity areas of Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. NHTSA said the limitation was unreasonable because Takata said on Nov. 10 that passenger air bag inflators are defective in other high humidity areas." NHTSA said the recall should also immediately include southern Georgia, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa and areas along the coast of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Last week, Kunselman reiterated to a Senate panel that it planned to notify owners of vehicles with possibly defective Takata air bags by Dec. 19 — a timetable some senators called unacceptable.

Takata says it will begin shipping parts for the recalled Chrysler vehicles on Dec l. NHTSA told Chrysler it must notify owners "as soon as possible" and no later than Monday. Friedman noted an injury has been reported in a 2006 Dodge Charger air bag deployment in Florida.

NHTSA called last week for Honda, Chrysler, Ford Motor Co., Mazda Motor Co. and BMW AG to expand nationwide the recalls for driver-side air bags. There isn't enough evidence to do the same for passenger-side bags, it said. So far none have agreed.

Chrysler also told NHTSA Wednesday it "continues its efforts to be proactive in notifying customers. Specific VIN numbers have been loaded into the Chrysler recall database so customers can look up their particular vehicle on our website. We also will be adding vehicles that have ever been registered in these regions... In addition, by Nov. 28 our brand websites will also feature a specific link to information regarding the Takata airbag inflator."