By Ryan Beene, Crain News Service
WASHINGTON (Sept. 4, 2015) — U.S. auto safety regulators now believe about 19.2 million U.S. vehicles are covered by the recalls for Takata Corp. airbag inflators that can explode in a crash — 36 percent fewer than were thought earlier this summer to carry the defective parts.
Those vehicles contain about 23.4 million suspect Takata inflators, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) official who updated reporters on the Takata recalls Sept. 1. About 4 million vehicles contain both driver- and passenger-side inflators affected by the recalls, said the official.
The agency previously believed that 34 million inflators contained in about 30 million vehicles were affected by the recalls.
In the briefing, the NHTSA official accounted for the discrepancy by saying that earlier estimates double-counted some vehicles and inflators. Takata's defect reports filed with NHTSA in May, on which the agency based its 34-million inflator estimates, also included a “substantial” number that were sold overseas.
The official also said that, to date, about 4.4 million of the 23.4 million recalled inflators have been replaced, but some will need to be replaced again.
He also said that the number of affected vehicles and inflators would likely continue to fluctuate if the agency's investigation determines that the recalls need to be expanded, or more inflators installed as replacements are found to be in need of replacement. To date, defective Takata airbags have been linked to 8 deaths and more than 100 injuries.
Coordinated recall plan
The agency expects to hold a public hearing about its plans to coordinate the massive and complex Takata recalls, an unprecedented level of agency involvement in the execution of a recall plan.
The hearing has not been scheduled but is planned for this fall, and NHTSA will lay out its recall plan and discuss the appropriate role for the agency to take as it seeks to orchestrate the flow of parts to customers of the 11 auto makers affected by the Takata recalls, the official said.
NHTSA has been holding meetings with auto makers and suppliers since June to craft the overall plan.
At the same time, the agency's investigation into the Takata airbag defects is ongoing and a root cause for the defect has yet to be determined.
Part of the investigation is looking at whether Takata violated U.S. auto safety laws in how it handled the defect. The U.S. Justice Department is also pursuing a criminal probe into the company.
On the testing front, NHTSA has begun its own testing operation at an Ohio lab owned by the Battelle Memorial Institute, a nonprofit R&D firm, and has completed an early round of Takata inflator testing. The tests were in part intended to verify data submitted to the agency by Takata.
The NHTSA official said the agency's results generally line up with Takata's own findings about which of its inflator designs present the biggest risk of a rupture, and that inflators taken from hot, humid climates are more at risk than those from more temperate regions, the official said.
NHTSA last month also widened the scope of its investigation to look at a type of Takata side airbag inflators mounted in vehicle seats after one such inflator ruptured in a 2015 Volkswagen Tiguan in June.
The NHTSA official said since then, it has learned that GM experienced issues with seat-mounted side airbag inflators from Takata as well, though not in vehicles sold in the U.S.
GM spokesman Alan Adler said in an email that the auto maker recalled 334 Chevrolet Malibus built overseas and sold in South Korea, Kuwait, Oman, UAE, Lebanon, and Singapore for a side airbag inflator canister that could separate from its housing when it deploys. The issue was discovered in routine lot-acceptance testing by Takata, and GM quarantined all vehicles with inflators from the same batch as the defective one, except for the 334 vehicles that were sold prior to that and covered by the recall.
The issue doesn't affect any GM vehicles in the U.S.
This report appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.