The National Highway Safety Administration began to impose a $14,000 fine a day on Japanese automotive parts company Takata Corp. for not cooperating with the investigation into the company’s defective airbags, the Washington Post reported on February 20.
So far, 17 million vehicles have been recalled since 2008, although only around 2 million of those have been fixed. There is a shortage of parts to repair vehicles.
Federal investigators think a prolonged exposure to moisture in the air allows the inflator chemical to burn too quickly. They are planning to issue an order during the last week of February that mandates people who sued Takata to share with them the results of air bag safety tests.
Takata is protesting the federal agency’s actions, asserting that they have a right to mandate recalls by automakers, but not auto parts suppliers.
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BMW joined other automakers in extending their recall of vehicles with Takata airbags nationwide, the New York Times reported on December 22.
This move, encouraged by federal regulators, places BMW among other auto manufacturers that have done the same, including Honda, Ford, Chrysler, and Mazda. Although the recall was previously limited to particularly humid areas such as Florida, the NHTSA applied pressure to companies to extend the recalls nationwide. The recall will include a free replacement of driver-side airbags in the 140,000 affected vehicles, which are BMW 3 Series cars manufactured between January 2004 and August 2006.
The Takata airbags may rupture under pressure, spraying small metal pieces throughout the vehicle in an accident. This dangerous defect has resulted in five deaths and numerous reported injuries.
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While Takata is still maintaining that they have not identified the source of their airbag failures, a new report by The New York Times reveals that the company has expressed concerns over their use of ammonium nitrate as a propellant since the mid-‘90s.
The current concerns regarding Takata airbags center around their propensity to inflate with too much force and release shrapnel when deployed. This problem has been associated with five deaths and many more injuries. Critics have recently pointed a finger at ammonium nitrate as the source of the problem; Takata refutes this claim.
However, patent applications from the mid-‘90s reveal that Takata was aware of the potential problems with using ammonium nitrate to inflate their airbags. In the newly released documents, Takata previously acknowledged that the compound “was so vulnerable to temperature changes that its casing, under excessive pressure, ‘might even blow up.’” Takata has since worked to stabilize the compound by adding potassium to the propellant. They introduced the airbags with ammonium nitrate to the market in 2001, but additional patent applications show that they continued to propose more stabilizing measures in the following years, suggesting that Takata may have known the propellant was not yet completely safe, even as they continued to manufacture the product.
In a congressional hearing last week, Takata’s chief quality officer said, “The ammonium nitrate that we are using, it’s safe and stable.” Takata is continuing to use ammonium nitrate in the replacement airbags for recalled vehicles.
In the wake of a federal investigation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) warned Takata that they would take serious action against the air bag manufacturer if they did not expand their recall, according to The New York Times.
The latest action by the NHTSA highlights the ongoing struggle between safety regulators and Takata. The air bag manufacturer has issued a recall to areas within the United States that have high heat and humidity, as the majority of reported incidents have occurred in these areas. However, reports of Takata’s air bags exploding outside of these regions has prompted the NHTSA to put more pressure on Takata and individual manufacturers to expand their recall to cover the entire nation.
While Honda has voluntarily expanded their recall, Takata is remaining resistant. The NHTSA said that they will likely force a recall and could impose a fine of $7,000 per violation if Takata does not take action within the week.