By on November 21, 2014


While we were looking over the latest and greatest from the 2014 LA Auto Show, the Takata band played on.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation are both calling for a national recall of all vehicles with Takata’s airbags, citing a catastrophic failure of a module outside the high-humidity zone previously established in an earlier recall.

The NHTSA also issued a General Order to the airbag supplier and 10 automakers — BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota — requiring all to submit documents regarding “completed, ongoing or planned testing” of the supplier’s inflators outside of the current recall zone, with the goal of having all involved come correct with the agency and the American public about what they all plan to do about the airbags. Takata alone received a Special Order, regarding the propellent used in its airbags.

Responses to both orders are due by December 5.

Three of the 10 automakers involved with the General Order — Ford, GM and Honda — may likely have the hardest time replacing Takata completely. Per Bloomberg, the trio worked closely with the supplier to develop special features for their vehicles — Ford’s Adaptive Steering system, GM’s front center airbags — features that would take a while to work out with a new supplier if a deeper relationship were to take hold.

Meanwhile, only 6 percent of the 8 million vehicles equipped with Takata’s airbags have been repaired thus far, a rate critics of the supplier and its client base find appalling. The pace isn’t likely to quicken, however; Toyota says it would take a year at minimum to test and replace its units with those from other suppliers, while Nissan said doing the same for itself wasn’t feasible.

Returning to the Beltway, Reuters reports Takata had presented documents to the NHTSA linked to a 2009 accident involving its airbags, only for the agency to decline, as it had closed its investigation on the supplier and Honda, whose vehicle was involved in said accident. The NHTSA informed the news agency that the documents “would not have added to the agency’s understanding of the issues involved in that particular investigation.”

Speaking of Honda, senior executive Rick Schostek admitted before Congress that his company failed to notify the NHTSA or its customer base about the issues with Takata’s airbags, promising to offer consumers a loaner if their affected vehicles are repaired quickly due to supply shortages. As for Takata’s Hiroshi Shimizu, Automotive News says he went on the defensive, going so far as to claim that it was “hard” for him to “answer yes or no” to several questions asked by the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, much to the dismay and bemusement of the committee members.

Prior to the call for a nationwide recall, the regional-specific actions, as well as the NHTSA’s order to consumers to have their airbags replaced immediately, contributed to public anxiety over whether or not the airbag before them would disfigure or kill in an accident. According to Bloomberg, Takata itself believes a national recall would only further exacerbate those fears, potentially diverting resources “from where they’re needed, putting lives at risk.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reports the Monclova, Mexico facility where the defective units were assembled had issues from the moment it opened its doors in 2000. Aside from the units made in 2001, 2002 and 2012, an explosion in 2006 — one some workers claim was fueled by the same ammonium nitrate used in Takata’s airbags as a propellent — jump-started a production run where quality slipped against hourly quotas. Whether the top brass knew of the problems, however, is a different story, as it never sent permanent staff to Mexico from its headquarters in Japan.

Over in Germany, BMW is working with the supplier to have its airbags made closer to home in Freiberg, transferring production from Mexico. The move only applies to BMW, who expects additional production to come online by mid-December. Alternative arrangements would take two years and “divert attention from current recall efforts,” per the automaker.

Finally, U.S. Air Force First Lieutenant Stephanie Erdman gave her testimony before Congress, detailing what had happened to her when a vehicle turned in front of her 2002 Honda Civic in September 2013. According to The Detroit News, the resulting injuries and ongoing surgeries led to a lawsuit against Honda, whose certified dealership in Destin, Fla. failed to notify Erdman of the February 2010 driver’s side airbag recall or what would happen if the airbag deployed in the wrong conditions, nor did the dealership replace the unit in question. She also feared that once the spotlight subsides on Takata et al, the problems would still be there, and urged Congress to continue to hold all accountable for their actions.

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22 Comments on “NHTSA, USDOT Demand National Recall Action From Takata, Automakers...”

  • avatar

    I was reading about this this morning, Honda could be in deep poop over all of this

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    The rational economics are simply insane: Yeah, a bomb airbag is a scary thought. But its what, 4 fatalities over a decade? Out of 8 million vehicles? Given another ~10 years of these cars on the road, we’d expect what, another 4 fatalities?

    This recall on a national level is insanely expensive: ~8M vehicles x $200/vehicle minimum, divided by 4 lives saved is $400,000,000 per life.

    You could save a lot more lives for $400,000,000 if you, say, forced the affected automakers to contribute that much in cash to driver education and said “f the recall”.

    And I’m speaking as someone with a vehicle which would be covered by a national recall…

    • 0 avatar

      You’re talking cortex, this is limbic system.

      It’s the baby-sitter shaking the baby.

    • 0 avatar

      So, how do you feel about possibly having a ticking timebomb inches from your face? It’s not just deaths, someone here just the other day was talking about their cousin who was blinded in a fender-bender from the shrapnel in a Takata airbag. Are you willing to gamble on getting blinded in a fender-bender, not me?

      • 0 avatar

        Distributed over something like 80 million passenger vehicle-years, 140 reported injuries still rounds to zero.

        For perspective, between 7 and 8,000 occupants were outright killed in the past 80 million passenger vehicle-years, which is to say since July. Something past half a million were injured to one degree or another.

        The root of nearly all chicken littleism is innumeracy.

      • 0 avatar
        Nicholas Weaver

        Quite comfortable, because I actually understand risk.

        The past few days of rain & wet weather here in the bay area I’ve been driving the Mazda6 (complete with Takata airbag) over the S2000, because the net aggregate risk between a substantial FWD car on wet roads, complete with side airbags and a Takata Brand Hand Grenade, vs a lightweight RWD car with no side airbags, handling intended to kill the driver, and a bumper and rear impact zone which is pretty much just a speedbump to an SUV…

        There is no question, the Mazda6 is vastly safer than the S2000 in the wet, so I’ve been driving the S2000 in the rain.

      • 0 avatar
        Nicholas Weaver

        Quite easily: The “ticking time bomb” from the airbag is so much in the noise compared with everything else in driving.

        In fact, I’ve been driving the Mazda6 in the recent wet over the S2000, because overall the Mazda, complete with Takata Brand Hand Grenade, is vastly safer in the wet compared to the little Honda.

      • 0 avatar

        Lie2me, Truthfully it would not worry me at all. The last auto accident I was involved in happend in May of 1965. The last accident period was when a woman ran a stop sign in front of my motorcycle in March of 1983. I am a careful driver and I don’t worry aobut any possible accident. I do my best to avoid idiot drivers and that seems to help. But,there are accidents that will kill anyone, no matter what they are driving. I will continue to be careful and enjoy life without irrational fear.

        • 0 avatar

          Charliej, an accident doesn’t have to be caused by you for the airbags to go off. It can come out of nowhere without you seeing it coming.

          Recently in my neck of the woods a teenage girl texting caused a head-on collision in an intersection with another car that was not moving, but waiting to make a left-hand turn.

          All the airbags in both cars went off. Luckily no one was killed in that accident.

          But it could have turned out much worse if either car had a faulty or exploding airbag.

    • 0 avatar

      Your extrapolation is likely incorrect; the airbags are all deteriorating, some in humid climates have already given way.

      Over the years, the total proportion of cars with these borked inflators will increase nationwide, making the chance for serious injury and death that much higher than it is now.

      So for instance, right now if there’s a 1 in 10 chance that you’ve got an airbag that will kill you, as the population of cars with bags that have deteriorated increases (and it will, at some unknown rate), that will go up to 1 in 7, 1 in 5, etc…

      And in terms of the economics of replacement, consider what having one of these bad bags will do to resale value. Sorry, I’d rather have Honda take it on the chin than me when the time comes to trade.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Wow, seems safer at this point to disable the airbags and just wear your dang seatbelt.

    • 0 avatar

      Although I would agree, given the nature of many of the GM ignition switch lawsuits arguments are, “if the switch didn’t turn off the airbag my drunk, speeding on a dark storm soaked road, unseat-belted family member would still be alive,” turning off the airbags would end up with, “had the dealer not deactivated the airbag of death, it may or may not have sent shrapnel through their neck and face killing them, hence it is the fault of my unseat-belted, speeding, drunk…”

    • 0 avatar

      This seems logical (disconnect the airbags in question), but unfortunately the seat belt designs were optimized to work with the airbags. Most front seat belts have “force-limiting” mechanisms that allow the belt to “give” a little more in frontal collisions to reduce the possibility of sternum, rib, or collarbone fractures. The airbag then takes over to cushion the head and chest. Sans airbag, your head will hit the steering wheel harder unless the seat belts are replaced with the older style lacking force limiters.

      • 0 avatar

        This seems like a poor design. Even prior to the recent airbag scandals there have been incidents where the airbags were faulty in some manner. Even if those are outliers, those folks in particular have a greater chance of injury based on what you have posted.

  • avatar

    Well, about what I expected.

    The chairman of Takata has gone into hiding apparently unable to face the problem. So in the usual Japanese management-by-consenus dither of the people left, where everyone tries to pass the buck and not reach a conclusion, we have a complete mess.

    So they send their head of quality to the Senate hearing, and he knows he cannot make a yes/no decision for his colleagues, so he basically prevaricates, when action is what is needed. Frozen-in-the-headlights management is not going to solve this problem.

    Frankly, Takata as a company needs to end, with production responsibilities taken over by a much bigger company who can appoint a leader with decision-making powers, a mere executive of a larger keiretsu member who doesn’t have to seek approval from twenty other old guys looking to have a happy retirement with no hassles in their last couple of working years.

  • avatar

    I recently read, and should have bookmarked the site, that GM’s exposure to Takata specifically has been over estimated, and it is limited to two vehicles – the Saab 9-2x and some older production Pontiac Vibes – 03 to 04 or 03 to 05 IIRC.

    The rest of the vehicles thought to be involved where mixed in by accident because they have already been previously recalled for other airbag issues, and regulators seem to feel that the shrapnel expelling versions are no longer in those vehicles.

    I will happily be corrected if that was in error of the error of the error.

    One thing that is crystal clear. NHTSA and the DOT have learned absolutely nothing from the Ford Explorer roll overs, the Toyota gas pedals and floor mats, and the GM ignition switches. They are clearly a toothless incompetent organization when it comes to recalls specifically (this isn’t a Tea Party cry for the end of NHTSA, I like driving cars that don’t fold up like accordions and some common sense regulation like seat belts, and safety glass, and other mandates that corporate bean counters and lawyers would eliminate tomorrow to increase profits, if they thought they could)

  • avatar

    Judging by comparative number of comments so far, I was wrong about the gravity of this situation. A ditzy butterfly heading Cadillac and Chrysler running out of pretty colors are more vital to our core interests.

    Yay! Snoopy dance!

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