By David Sedgwick, Crain News Service
WASHINGTON (Nov. 19, 2014) — U.S. safety regulators are seeking to expand regional recalls of faulty driver's-side airbags made by Takata Corp. into a nationwide campaign, prompting the supplier to warn of potential parts shortages.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it took the action after becoming aware of two accidents involving ruptured driver-side airbags outside a band of high-humidity states, mainly in the South, where regional recalls by auto makers have been focused.
“One incident is an anomaly, but two are a trend,” David Friedman, deputy administrator of the agency, said on a conference call with reporters.
Mr. Friedman said NHTSA was made aware of the latest incident, which occurred in North Carolina in August, two weeks ago.
In a statement, Takata questioned the need for an expanded recall and warned of a potential shortage of inflators — setting the stage for a battle with federal regulators.
The faulty airbags can explode with too much force and spray shrapnel at occupants, a problem that has been linked to at least five deaths and numerous injuries.
The exchange comes two days before Mr. Friedman and executives from Takata, Honda Motor Co. and Chrysler Group L.L.C. are scheduled to testify before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on the escalating crisis.
The government this week contacted vehicle manufacturers and the Japanese safety systems supplier about expanding the recall, Mr. Friedman said.
The expanded recalls would affect vehicles produced in model year 2008 or before, Mr. Friedman said. NHTSA confirmed that the nationwide effort would involve Ford, Honda, Chrysler, Mazda and BMW vehicles. Other auto makers could be added later.
“We are requesting additional data from Takata and auto manufacturers to determine the full scope of this issue,” a NHTSA spokeswoman said in an email.
Mr. Friedman said he did not yet know how many vehicles would be involved in a nationwide recall, or an exact list of models.
“We are still checking on the details (of NHTSA's demand), but if (an expanded) recall is needed, we will cooperate with regulators and car makers to address the issue,” Takata said.
If Takata fails to take action, Mr. Friedman said his agency will step in.
“If they do refuse to act, then we will demand a recall and issue an agency order to force them to act,” Mr. Friedman said.
Takata warned that a nationwide recall “could potentially divert replacement airbags from where they're needed, putting lives at risk.”
In its statement, Takata noted that nearly 1,000 passenger and driver-side airbags had been tested outside the regional recall area, and that none had ruptured.