Thu, Nov 20, 2014 - Page 15 News List

US asks vehicle industry to expand air bag recall

TAKATA BLOWBACK:The Japanese firm said regional recalls were more appropriate, while also struggling to provide enough new replacement parts for carmakers

AP, DETROIT, Michigan

The US government is demanding that the auto industry recall millions of additional cars equipped with faulty air bags that can injure — and even kill — a driver.

The action on Tuesday by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) covers driver’s side air bags equipped with inflators made by Takata Corp of Japan. The inflators can erupt and send metal fragments into the passenger compartment.

Previously, cars with the inflators had been recalled only in regions with high humidity such as states along the Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Takata has said that prolonged exposure to moisture can cause the air-bag propellant to burn faster than designed, causing the problem.

Up until now, about 8 million cars in the US with Takata inflators have been recalled for problems with either the driver or passenger side air bag, or both. Another 4 million have been recalled outside the US. At least five deaths worldwide have been linked to the problem.

Safety regulators say Tuesday’s action is based on incidents involving a death in California and an injury in North Carolina where the air bags were implicated. Both states are outside of the area covered by the earlier recalls.

“One can be an anomaly. Two becomes a trend and we feel we need to act,” NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman said.

Takata said in a statement that it agrees that the current recall should be expanded if the investigation it is conducting with the NHTSA determines there is a safety risk. However, it said current results indicate that a regional recall is appropriate. Takata said it has evaluated 1,000 driver and passenger inflators from outside the humid areas and none have ruptured.

“Takata is concerned that a national recall under these circumstances could potentially divert replacement air bags from where they are needed, putting lives at risk,” the company said.

US legislators have pressured the federal government to expand the recall to all 50 states as reports of deaths and injuries emerged. While they will partly get their wish, the expanded recall is not to cover passenger air bags.

Also, car owners may run into a problem: a limited number of replacement parts. Takata is struggling to make enough replacement inflators to handle the smaller regional recalls and likely will have trouble supplying demand for a nationwide recall. The company has promised to add two production lines by the start of next year to make more inflators, Friedman said on a conference call following the government’s recall statement.

Friedman said that if Takata and the automakers fail to agree to the recall quickly, the safety agency will use its legal powers to make sure the inflators are recalled.

The government’s demand for the national recall covers vehicles made by Ford, Honda, Chrysler, Mazda and BMW, generally from the 2008 model year and earlier.

Ford, Chrysler, Mazda and Honda said on Tuesday that they are working with the NHTSA, but would not say whether they would expand their recalls. BMW said its recalls are already national.

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