Commentary

Honda Decides To Get In Front Of Airbag Recall

Apparently realizing that it would be its own reputation on the line with consumers and not its suppliers’, Honda North America yesterday said it would expand the recall of driver-side airbags nationwide from areas with “high temperature and high humidity” that airbag manufacturer Takata Corp. continues to insist is sufficient.

“Why are we doing this? Because our customers have concerns and we want to address them,” Honda NA EVP Rick Schostek said in congressional testimony, Todd Spangler reports in the Detroit Free Press.

He also said that the company is “trying to redouble our efforts to make sure [consumers] understand we want them to bring that vehicle in” and said loaners would be provided for free until the repairs are made, Christina Rogers reports in the Wall Street Journal

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“A few weeks ago the automaker said it would replace the faulty airbags if customers asked for it,” recallsJalopnik’s Patrick George, “though based on the comments we got on that story that didn't really seem to be the case. Many of our readers who called the company or dealers to ask for new parts got confused responses or a flat out ‘No.’” 

“Honda made the move one day after Takata, the Japanese auto supply company that makes the air bags, refused to comply with a federal demand that it expand the recall beyond several southern states,” Ashley Halsey III reports in the Washington Post

“If Takata had agreed to the recall order by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, all of the automakers who install the company’s air bags would have been bound to carry it out.”

“The airbags have been a flash point for regulators and lawmakers as the auto industry has become engulfed in a safety crisis this year,” point out Aaron M. Kessler and Hiroko Tabuchi in the New York Times. “More than 11 million vehicles in the United States have been recalled, and the airbags have been linked to at least five deaths, all in cars made by Honda.”

The Detroit Free Press’ Spangler explains the potential problem in the airbags thusly: “Under certain conditions, the defect causes the inflator to rupture, potentially spraying a motorist with metal shrapnel. During today's questioning, one House member likened it to driving while having a shotgun pointed at you.”

“The time has come to bring the facts together and make sure the unsafe airbag inflators are off the market, consumers can get their faulty parts replaced, and future recalls are handled better,” said U.S. Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, Spangler reports.

But “at this moment, there is not enough scientific evidence to change from regional recall to national recall,” Hiroshi Shimizu, Takata’s SVP for global quality assurance, told his hearing yesterday.

The response from Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) seeped with incredulity,  as the Times article recounts it.

“If I have a car with a Takata airbag in Yulee, Fla., just south of the Georgia line, it’s an urgent matter that I bring it in for a recall,” Waxman said. “But if I instead live 15 minutes north of that line in Kingsland, Ga., I gather the position is that my car is perfectly safe. Is that a correct assumption?” 

“The evidence is [that] the problem isn’t limited to areas of absolute, high-humidity,” NHTSA deputy administrator David Friedman told the panel, the WSJ’s Rogers reports. “A regional recall is no longer appropriate for the driver’s side air bags.”

But “due to limited availability of replacement parts, Schostek said Honda will prioritize vehicles in the high-humidity areas of the U.S. that were previously recalled,” Nick Bunkley reports in Automotive News. “He said Honda is working with two other airbag manufacturers, Autoliv and Daicel, to accelerate production of new inflators.”

Meanwhile, Chrysler announced the recall of “149,150 older-model pickups in seven U.S. states and five territories to address concerns about improper air-bag deployment in other high humidity states, but stopped far short of the broader recall demanded by,” the NHTSA reports David Shepardson in the Detroit News.

In response, the NHTSA “blasted Chrysler, and suggested a new battle is coming,” Shepardson writes. “Chrysler’s latest recall is insufficient, doesn’t meet our demands, and fails to include all inflators covered by Takata's defect information report,” the agency said in a statement.

The NHTSA maintains a searchable database by VIN number of all manufacturer recalls, although the last entrees this morning are from last month. It’s admittedly getting difficult to keep up.

“Recalls have become as much a part of the automotive industry as engines,” as the Chicago Tribune’s Robert Duffer put it in April.

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