There were already doubts over whether or not Takata, a major Japanese auto-parts supplier, would be able to bounce back from their major airbag scandal. Currently, Takata is already dealing with what is known to be the largest automotive recall in U.S. history—but it could get worse. United States regulators are expected to announce that at least 35 million more airbags inflators from Takata will need to be recalled.
More concerning than the company’s fading future or financial problems are the losses their faulty airbags have cost: at least 11 lives. On March 31, a Houston teen was killed after her Honda Civic airbag ruptured. Just 17, she was driving to school when she ran into the vehicle in front of her. The teen driver wasn’t speeding according to officials and her car only sustained moderate damage—however, the airbag inexplicably ruptured, causing a sharp metal fragment to fly into her neck. She was just a few minutes away from school. Her vehicle was used and her family reportedly never received the recall notice.
Recall Expanded to Help Prevent More Tragedies
Devastating stories like the one above are a major push behind the growing Takata recalls. Fourteen automakers have already taken action to recall as many as 28 million airbag inflators—the component of the airbag made by Takata that is believed to cause the rupture. Still, the company and officials have not been able to pinpoint the exact cause or issue in this complex safety recall.
10 of the 11 deaths caused by the Takata airbag defect have been in the United States. This mounts the pressure on U.S. regulators to ensure the safety of drivers on the road. The latest recall expansion would bring the number of airbags recalled up to 63 million within the United States alone.
Ammonium Nitrate: Denial & Acceptance
The race to determine the exact cause of the defective airbag rupture continues, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave Takata until 2018 to prove that the propellant believed to be the issue is safe.
Ammonium nitrate is one of the compounds in the airbag used to help it inflate when a collision occurs. However, it is believed that the compound may become unstable over time or when exposed to moisture, which is why the recall warnings have been highest in humid areas.
In 2008, when the recalls first began, Takata claimed there was no issue with ammonium nitrate in the inflators, but instead manufacturing flaws or various quality control problems. By May of 2015, Takata finally admitted that its products were defective.
Takata opted to add a dry agent to the compound in recent years in attempts to make it more stable; however, the newest recall is focusing on the older airbags that never used that drying agent. Some view Takata’s move to recall older airbags without the drying agent an admission that the more affordable ammonium nitrate was too potent and a serious safety risk.
They face up hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties from the NHTSA if they are unable to meet the consent order’s terms, only adding to their troubles.
Could the Recall Jump to 100 Million?
The latest recall efforts are brought on by the findings of three separate investigations conducted by Honda and 10 other automakers. If 35 million more vehicles are added to the recall, it could account for one of four vehicles on the road in the U.S. Some regulators think this number is still too low and that 100 million vehicles may eventually need to be recalled in the United States alone.
As of now, Takata has been barred from using ammonium nitrate for any new orders. Penalties from NHTSA could balloon from $70 million to $200 million if more infractions are uncovered. Takata may also face penalties from the U.S. Justice Department, as well as additional consumer lawsuits.
Despite the millions of recalls, with such a recent death in Houston, it is clear that Takata’s efforts to “make sure airbags in Americans’ vehicles are safe” simply fall short.