Regulators, lawmakers tighten Takata recall scrutiny

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 22, 2015 2:28 PM

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. regulators will decide next month whether to take the unprecedented step of coordinating the Takata air bag inflator recall, saying the task of replacing nearly 24 million potentially deadly devices could be too massive to succeed without intervention.

At a public presentation on the recall that currently spans 12 automakers, regulators on Thursday laid out a range of options from naming an independent overseer and speeding up recalls for priority vehicles to enlisting independent repair shops in the replacement effort.

The recall has focused on front air bags so far, but could be expanded to Takata Corp inflators used in side-mounted air bags, according to officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They said they are also looking at including older cars and vehicles from seven other automakers.

The hour-long presentation suggested NHTSA was leaning toward taking action. A decision is expected by Nov. 26.

"If there wasn't coordination, this could be chaos. There is, frankly, enough confusion as it is," NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said. "How far we go, what options we choose, that's what will be determined."

Meanwhile, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee sent a letter to Takata Chief Executive Shigehisa Takada seeking information on the June incident involving a side air bag inflator in a 2015 Volkswagen <VOWG_p.DE> Tiguan.

"The issue raises a number of questions regarding the scope of the current recalls," committee chairman John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, and Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, the panel's top Democrat, said in the letter.

Takata air bag inflators have been linked to at least eight deaths and nearly 100 injuries in more than 120 ruptures, NHTSA said.

Regulators have yet to identify the root cause of the problem. They suspect the ammonium nitrate propellant, after years of exposure to heat and humidity, causes the inflators to explode with too much force, spraying metal shards into vehicle passenger compartments.

The recall encompasses vehicles from Honda Motor Co Ltd, General Motors Co, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Mazda Motor Corp, Mitsubishi Motors Corp, Nissan Motor Co Ltd, Subaru Co Ltd, Toyota Motor Corp, Ford Motor Co and truck and van units of Daimler AG.

In September, NHTSA asked seven other automakers that have used Takata inflators whether they are considering recalls. That group includes Volkswagen AG, Tesla Motors Inc, Daimler's Mercedes-Benz unit, Jaguar Land Rover[TAMOJL.UL], Suzuki Motor Corp, Volvo Trucks and Spartan Motors Inc.

Five automakers together account for nearly 80 percent of the suspect air bag inflators on the road and about three-quarters of the affected vehicles: BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Honda and Mazda.

Regulators are concerned that a shortage of inflator replacements could undermine the recall effort, which currently has a low 22.5 percent completion rate nationally in the United States and a 29.5 percent rate in high-humidity states where the risks are highest.

Three outside air bag suppliers are producing replacement inflators. But officials expressed concern about people obtaining recalled inflators and trying to sell them to unsuspecting consumers via eBay and other Internet sites.

NHTSA said Takata will produce 2.8 million replacement units this month, but that 70 percent of those units will include inflators from other manufacturers, namely Autoliv Inc, Daicel Corp and TRW Automotive Inc [TRWTA.UL].

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by David Gregorio)