Coverage: Takata recall largest in history
Months after coverage began on faulty airbags, Takata is recalling nearly 34 million vehicles, the largest recall of a consumer product. The company is finally admitting its parts are faulty, something that many have seen as a foregone conclusion.
The Detroit News had these details about the firm’s decision in a story by David Shepardson:
Japanese air bag manufacturer Takata Corp. will announce Tuesday it is declaring an estimated 33.8 million vehicles defective, a move that is expected to lead to the largest U.S. recall of any consumer product, surpassing the callback of 31 million bottles of Tylenol in 1982 following a poison scare.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx confirmed the decision by Takata. The sweeping announcement is a major victory for the National Highway Safety Administration, which has been pressing Takata since November to declare millions of vehicles defective.
The air bags are linked to at least six deaths and more than 100 injuries, caused when propellant explodes with too much force and sends dangerous metal fragments flying. Officials link the problem largely to exposure to high humidity and moisture, though the precise root cause is not known.
Takata is expected to announce it has filed a series of four defect information reports with U.S. auto safety officials declaring about 33.8 million vehicles with both driver and passenger air bag inflators defective — that’s nearly double the roughly 17 million vehicles that 10 major automakers have recalled in the United States for Takata air bag inflators since 2013.
Automakers recalled those vehicles even as Takata refused to declare the parts defective.
Chris Woodyard and Todd Spanglar wrote for USA Today that the recall was an expansion of regional ones:
It expands regional recalls to make them national, adding about 16 million more vehicles to recall tally that had already hit 17 million. “This is the largest recall we know of,” said Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at a press conference.
As such, he says the recall will take years to complete. “This is an enormously complex situation,” Rosekind added.
Even before the announcement Tuesday, 10 automakers had announced individual recalls around the air bags in the U.S.
It looks like the company is finally succumbing to pressure from regulators about problems with the parts, The Wall Street Journal reported in a story by Mike Spector and Gautham Nagesh:
Regulators already levied more than $1 million in fines against Takata, stemming from daily penalties of $14,000 imposed on the company earlier this year for failing to cooperate with the U.S. agency’s probe into the defective air bags. Those fines now have been suspended, but the agency’s investigation remains open. NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind said further fines could be levied depending on what the agency’s investigation uncovers.
The Takata inflaters are made with a propellant that can degrade over time, causing air bags to explode and send shrapnel flying in vehicles. In addition to regulators, Takata and a group of 10 auto makers are separately conducting investigations to determine the root cause of the air-bag ruptures. High humidity and moisture have been linked to the problem.
Takata said the inflater problem is a “complex issue” that would take time to fully evaluate. The company repeated that factors contributing to the problem include high humidity, and “the possibility of manufacturing issues.”
Apart from regulatory scrutiny, the air-bag ruptures have sparked widespread lawsuits and a Justice Department probe that could eventually cause Takata to pay additional penalties on account of the safety problem.
The recalls are expected to happen in phases, with vehicles being recalled across the U.S. to replace inflaters first in older vehicles and in areas with high humidity. Other recalls are expected to start in areas with high humidity and potentially expand across the U.S. depending on the results of further testing by regulators, Takata said.
Takata has a history of ignoring warnings about its products, The New York Times reported in a piece by Danielle Ivory and Hiroko Tabuchi:
Former Takata engineers told The New York Times last year that they hadraised concerns over a decade ago that the explosive material Takata uses — ammonium nitrate — was sensitive to moisture and temperature swings. But those concerns went unheeded, they said.
Takata’s patents also document how the company’s engineers for yearsstruggled to stabilize the ammonium nitrate in its propellant.
And for the first time, Takata also acknowledged problems with leaks in its airbag inflaters. Tests had revealed that some of its airbag inflaters were found to have leaks in the seals that are supposed to keep them air tight.
Last week, a former Takata consultant told The New York Times that tests he carried out on prototype Takata airbags in the early 2000s showed that they contained leaks. He urged the company to use a different leak testing method, one that he devised, he said, but his advice went unheeded.
According to Reuters, the recall could cost as much as $5 billion, David Morgan and Ben Klayman reported:
Takata’s recall will cost the supplier and its automaker customers an estimated $4 billion to $5 billion, said Scott Upham, president of Valient Market Research, which tracks the air bag industry.
A Honda Motor Co Ltd spokesman had no immediate comment on how the replacement air bag inflators will be produced for such a large number of vehicles. Industry officials have turned to Takata’s rivals for help in obtaining replacement parts.
Takada, whose family founded and controls the supplier, said analysis of the problem “was not within the scope of testing specifications” set by its automaker customers.
“While it’s taken far too long, Takata finally seems to be owning up to the air bag crisis that has plagued vehicles of all shapes and sizes,” said Kelley Blue Book analyst Akshay Anand. “A recall of this size is unprecedented in any industry.”
It’s a huge win for the government to get Takata to finally admit there is a problem and agree to fix it. The real question is what took it so long and why have so many people had to be injured. If the Times piece is true and engineers’ concerns were ignored, it’s possible this is just the beginning of the troubles for the company.