Wed, Jun 03, 2015 - Page 15 News List

Takata to alter air bag inflator design

‘SAFE AND EFFECTIVE’:A company spokesman said ammonium nitrate would continue to be used in replacement inflators, despite some lawmakers questioning its volatility

Reuters

Takata Corp on Monday said that it would continue producing air bags that use ammonium nitrate propellant, but would change the design of the driver-side air bag inflators.

The Japanese supplier is at the center of a global recall of tens of millions of cars for potentially deadly air bag inflators, capable of deploying with too much force and spraying metal fragments inside vehicles.

In written testimony ahead of a US congressional hearing scheduled for yesterday, Takata executive Kevin Kennedy said other companies producing replacements for potentially defective Takata inflators would not use ammonium nitrate.

Kennedy said Takata is working with automakers “to transition to newer versions of driver inflators in our replacement kits, or inflators made by other suppliers that do not contain ammonium nitrate.”

A Takata spokesman added that replacement inflators made by Takata would continue to use ammonium nitrate, “which is safe and effective for use in air bag inflators when properly engineered and manufactured.”

Lawmakers, some plaintiffs’ attorneys and former Takata employees have raised questions about the volatility and safety of ammonium nitrate.

Takata is the only major air bag supplier using ammonium nitrate in its inflators.

Defective inflators have been linked to six deaths and hundreds of injuries since 2003.

Takata also said it was “confident” that replacement driver-side inflators with ammonium nitrate already installed in owners’ cars are safe, although it plans to replace those replacement parts with newer designs.

In documents filed last month with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Takata said propellant wafers in driver-side inflators installed on 17.6 million US vehicles “may experience an alteration over time,” which could lead to “over-aggressive combustion,” particularly when exposed to “high absolute humidity.”

The air bags in all of the recalled vehicles use ammonium nitrate, a relatively inexpensive and cleaner-burning compound than other chemicals — but one that can be highly volatile, especially when exposed to moisture, according to industry officials and chemists.

In interviews earlier this year, Mark Lillie, a retired chemical engineer who left Takata in 1999, said he raised concerns with the company about the safety of ammonium nitrate.

“I literally said: ‘If we go forward with this, someone will be killed,’” said Lillie, who has also spoken with US congressional investigators.

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