Japanese air bag maker Takata has rejected a demand by US authorities to expand a recall of faulty air bags to the whole of the United States. The company claims the problem was limited to high-humidity areas.
During a US Congress subcommittee hearing in Washington Wednesday, Takata Senior Vice President Hiroshi Shimizu rejected regulators’ demand for a nationwide recall, setting up a possible legal showdown over the company’s faulty airbags.
Shimizu told US lawmakers that there was “not enough scientific evidence” to change from a regional recall to a national recall.
“Ongoing tests have not shown any ruptures in inflators retrieved from vehicles outside the areas of high absolute humidity,” he said.
Over the past 6 years, airbag supplier Takata and 10 auto makers issued a series of recalls covering 8 million cars in the United States, mostly in high-humidity areas such as the Gulf coast, Hawaii, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands.
At issue are malfunctioning inflators in Takata air bags which cause them to explode, spraying metal fragments into the passenger compartment. Five deaths have been linked to the problem.
After incidents in California and North Carolina, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has begun pressing for the recall of an additional 8 million vehicles from coast to coast. NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman told the US Congress committee that the problem evidently wasn’t limited to “areas of absolute, high-humidity” and that a regional recall was “no longer appropriate.” The judgment was flatly rejected by Takata’s Hiroshi Shimizu
“Based on the data currently available and our best engineering judgment, Takata continues to believe that the public safety is best served if the identified areas of high absolute humidity remain the priority for the replacement of suspect inflators,” he said.
Carmakers act as penalties loom
Japanese carmaker Honda, which is Takata’s biggest customer, said it would be expanding its recall in line with the NHTSA request. The move was followed by Ford and Chrysler later on Wednesday, as well as by the world’s biggest car manufacturer Toyota on Thursday.
Toyota said it would recall 185,000 vehicles across 19 models including the Corolla and Alphard in Japan, and 5,000 in China, as a preventative measure.
German premium carmaker BMW, which also uses Takata air bags, said it was evaluating the situation.
Following the US Congress hearing, the NHTSA warned that both the company and auto makers were now facing legal action, including fines of up to $35 million (28 million euros), if they do not address the problem.
“If Takata and the automakers continue to refuse to act, we are going to have to take them to court,” the NHTSA Deputy Administrator said.