FCA will use TRW to replace 4M Takata inflators

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV will tell a Senate panel Tuesday it is moving the replacement of 4.1 million vehicles for driver-side inflators from Takata Corp. to TRW Automotive.

The automaker will announce the major move, which is believed to be the most significant shift of business to a rival supplier by 11 automakers who are recalling an estimated 33.8 million vehicles with potentially defective air bags. The bags, now linked to eight deaths and more than 100 injuries, can explode and throw shrapnel at drivers and passengers.

"Despite the lack of a root cause determination to date, FCA's mission to identify and implement solutions that will improve the safety of our customers has not been delayed," FCA U.S. senior vice president and head of vehicle safety and regulatory compliance Scott G. Kunselman, said in written testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee.

His testimony says Fiat Chrysler is "replacing all driver-side inflators involved in the recall with an alternate and permanent design provided by TRW," according to a copy of his written testimony obtained by The Detroit News.

The change was effective June 8. Kunselman will tell the panel that "customers who receive the TRW inflator replacement will require no further action on their vehicles. Takata inflators that are no longer needed due to the supply from TRW are being quarantined and returned from our dealers to Takata."

The Japanese air bag manufacturer, which has its North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, has has come under scrutiny from federal prosecutors in Detroit and a federal grand jury over the recall.

Takata spokesman Jared Levy declined to comment. A TRW spokesman didn't return a comment.

Fiat Chrysler said in late May it was recalling 4.07 million vehicles in the United States with Takata driver-side air bags. They include various Dodge Ram pickups built from 2004-10; 2004-08 Dodge Durangos, 2005-10 Chrysler 300, 300C and SRT8 sedans; 2005-10 Dodge Chargers full-size sedans, 2005-10 Dodge Magnums; 2005-11 Dodge Dakotas; small pickups and 2006-2011 Mitsubishi Raiders.

Fiat Chrysler will also replace 50,000 inflators for owners who previously received a Takata inflator will be notified to return for the TRW update. In total, Fiat Chrysler is recalling 4.8 million Takata inflators in 4.5 million vehicles in the United States — and 5.2 million worldwide.

But Fiat Chrysler is also working with Takata to develop improved versions of the passenger inflators. They will contain an improved ignitor material and a desiccant to protect the propellant from moisture.

Fiat Chrysler expects to complete testing on the new versions in August and it expects to begin installation in November.

Fiat Chrysler's safety efforts have come under scrutiny by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which will hold a July 2 hearing into the company's handling of 22 recall campaigns covering 12 million vehicles.

Honda Motor Co. is also sourcing some replacement parts from TRW. Honda says has a new system to ensure dealers check for uncompleted recalls. It is also working to buy up older Takata inflators at junkyards to prevent their use as replacement parts.

"We have already identified many thousands of inflators from salvage yards that now never will be installed in another vehicle," said Rich Schostek, executive vice president of Honda North America, in his written testimony.

Schostek will note that Honda "proactively began searching for alternative supply solutions to more quickly facilitate repairs of our older model vehicles. This effort led to agreements with Daicel, Autoliv and TRW Automotive to provide us with replacement parts in addition to Takata."

Honda says it is averaging more than 50,000 repairs per week, but is not disclosing how many parts it is getting from other air bag inflator suppliers.

Takata has been moving to ramp up production of replacement inflators. And it is using inflators produced by competitors.

Last month, German auto supplier ZF Friedrichshafen completed its acquisition of Livonia-based TRW Automotive.