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Takata Airbag Recall: What Was Known And When?

In a month where Takata, a manufacturer of airbags, saw additional car makes and models with faulty inflators increase to 24 million in the United States, the Japanese company's problems continue to mount. Ten more automakers have stepped forward to claim that airbag ruptures made by Takata led to 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries.

The continuing investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may lead to additional recalls. Seventy million to ninety million Takata inflators could be pulled from the market on top of those already classified as defective due to:

  • Use of ammonium nitrate, a volatile chemical
  • Exposure to humidity
  • Design and manufacturing problems

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee wants to know what Takata knew and when the Japanese manufacturer knew of the potential dangers. They cite evidence that the company covered up product-related problems. A recent report, backed up with 12 years of internal documents, revealed that Takata officials manipulated data to cover up inferior quality and testing.

One document in particular cited internal disagreements over the scope of the recall. An unidentified Takata manager informed the senior vice president of quality assurance that a more limited airbag recall initially proposed defied the company's moral obligation to protect the public.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson demanded action. The Florida Democrat questioned the NHTSA's aggressiveness in seemingly condoning the indefinite manufacturing of ammonium nitrate-based inflators. Nelson requested a redo, comparing the current recall as replacing "new live grenades" with "old live grenades."

The NHTSA countered with data that inflators at least seven years old caused all deaths and injuries. The agency also cited a consent order mandating the recall of inflators unless Takata can establish their long-term safety.

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