Commentary

Takata Reverses Gear, Recalls 34 Million Vehicles For Air Bag Repairs

After months of news stories, pressure from government agencies and lawmakers, and six deaths worldwide linked to air bags that exploded with too much force, Tokyo-based Takata announced yesterday that it has consented to recall 33.8 million vehicles across 11 manufacturers for repairs in the U.S. — about double the previous amount already recalled by automakers.

“The massive air bag recall covers more than 13% of all cars and trucks on the roads in the U.S. today,” points out David Shepardson for the Detroit News. “It would easily surpass the largest automotive recall — 23 million vehicles by Ford Motor Co. in 1980 for a transmission issue that only required the addition of a warning sticker.”

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“Move over, Tylenol. Takata could set a new record for recalls,” reads a WJAX Action News Jacksonville post on Facebook.

“While it's taken far too long, Takata finally seems to be owning up to the air bag crisis that has plagued vehicles of all shapes and sizes,” Kelley Blue Book analyst Akshay Anand tells Reuters’ David Morgan and Ben Klayman. 

“Today is a major step forward for public safety,” says Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, calling it “a monumental effort — there is no doubt about it,” Shepardson writes.

Bloomberg’s Jeff Plungis explains that “modern air bags, credited by [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] with saving more than 2,000 lives per year in the U.S., rely on chemical reactions to safely inflate in milliseconds when sensors detect a crash.”

“We are pleased to have reached this agreement with NHTSA, which presents a clear path forward to advancing safety and restoring the trust of automakers and the driving public,” Takata chairman and CEO Shigehisa Takada says in statement  announcing the consent order. “We have worked extensively with NHTSA and our automaker customers over the past year to collect and analyze a multitude of testing data in an effort to support actions that work for all parties and, most importantly, advance driver safety.”

In December, the family-owned company hired New York-based crises PR firm Sard Verbinnen & Co. to help it deal with the mounting crises.

“Takata’s acknowledgement marks a reversal from its long refusal to declare that its inflators are defective,” Ryan Beene reports for Automotive News. “Since 2008 — when the first vehicles were recalled for Takata air bag inflators that could rupture in a crash and spray vehicle occupants with metal shards — the supplier has blamed the problem on a series of manufacturing and material-handling errors at company plants that it says it had corrected over time.”

Honda, Toyota, Ford, BMW, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, General Motors, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Daimler Trucks all have vehicles equipped with potentially faulty air bags. 

“The automakers formed a coalition and hired independent engineering firm Orbital ATK to try to find the cause of the exploding air bags, report Alisa Priddle, Todd Spangler, Brent Snavely and Greg Gardner for the Detroit Free Press. “Their investigation is in addition to those being conducted by NHTSA and Takata in an industry-wide effort to find the reason for the defect to make sure it is fixed properly.”

Takata yesterday also released four reports that spell out hazards on various vehicles, Bloomberg’s Plungis reports, giving “different estimates on how long replacement inflators may last in different kinds of climates, including the high-humidity states that were the focus of the early recalls.”

“Folks shouldn't have to drive around wondering if their air bag is going to explode in their face or if their car is going to be on another recall list,” says Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) in a statement that has yet to generate dissent on either side of the aisle.

Two other senators — Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) — issued a statement calling on the NHTSA “to make sure the recall has teeth — by ensuring that the necessary parts are manufactured more quickly and that consumers are alerted immediately if the new parts turn out to be defective,” report Jennifer Scholtes and Bob King for Politico. 

That’s entirely likely as the Detroit News’ Shepardson indicates that the agency is “newly aggressive” following the appointment of Mark Rosekind as its administrator in December. The agency also  announced “it will hold an unprecedented public hearing in July to force Fiat Chrysler to explain what NHTSA calls a pattern of improperly handling callbacks in 20 recall campaigns since 2013,” Shepardson writes. 

“Tuesday’s moves come after federal auto-safety regulators were criticized for a lack of action surrounding problems with ignition switches in GM vehicles,” Mike Spector writes for the Wall Street Journal. “This year, the agency has slapped Honda with $70 million in fines for failing to report safety problems and called a public hearing to pressure Fiat Chrysler over recalls affecting more than 10 million vehicles, including older Jeeps.”

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