A showdown is looming between U.S. safety regulators and a Japanese company that makes air bags linked to multiple deaths and injuries.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants Takata Corp. to recall millions of potentially faulty driver’s side air bag inflators across the entire U.S. The air bags can explode with too much force, sending metal shrapnel into the passenger compartment.
But Takata, in communications Wednesday from Japan, is holding to its stance that current recalls, issued only in high-humidity areas mainly in the South, are enough. A broader recall isn’t supported by the evidence, the company says.
The polarized positions set up a showdown between the safety agency and Takata, with automakers caught in the middle. The agency said that unless Takata and the car companies agree to the national recall quickly, it “will use the full extent of its statutory powers” to get the recall done. But clearly the agency is focused on Takata first.
David Friedman, the agency’s deputy administrator, said: “Everyone needs to understand that Takata needs to act.”
The agency has yet to release a detailed list of the models or model years affected. But the expansions will affect millions of vehicles made by Ford, Honda, Chrysler, Mazda and BMW, mostly from model years 2008 or earlier, Friedman said.
The showdown comes on the eve of a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on the air bag problems. Lawmakers have criticized the safety agency for not forcing a nationwide recall sooner and for what they say is a haphazard and slow response to the deadly problem. Friedman and representatives of Takata, Honda and Chrysler are set to appear.
More than 14 million vehicles from 11 automakers have been recalled worldwide since 2008 over concerns about the Takata-made air bags. At least five deaths have been linked to the defect. The air bags contain a propellant that can cause them to explode when they deploy in an accident, spraying metal debris from the casing into the car’s cabin and potentially injuring the driver or passenger. Moisture is thought to make the propellant more combustible.
Friedman said the decision to call for a nationwide recall was prompted by an air bag rupture in North Carolina in August in a 2007 Ford Mustang that injured that car’s driver. Though that model had been recalled in June, the car in North Carolina had not because it was outside the high-humidity regions — including Florida, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico — in recent recalls. Another rupture in a Honda vehicle this year had prompted Honda to add California to its list of regions affected by the recall.