US: NHTSA announces national recall on Takata airbags

By Dave Leggett | 19 November 2014

The US Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced that it is calling for a national recall of vehicles with certain driver's side frontal airbags made by Takata.

This decision is based on the agency's evaluation of a recent driver's side airbag failure in a vehicle outside the current regional recall area and its relationship to five previous driver's side airbag ruptures, all of which are covered by existing regional recalls.

"By demanding this national recall, NHTSA has demonstrated once again that it will follow data and evidence to protect the lives of Americans on the road and to hold manufacturers accountable," said Secretary Anthony Foxx.

NHTSA contacted Takata and the vehicle manufacturers this week to call for the national recall of these vehicles after evaluating a recent incident that involved a failure in a driver's side airbag inflator outside an area of high absolute humidity. Based on this new information, unless Takata and the manufacturers quickly agree to this recall, NHTSA says it will use the full extent of its statutory powers to ensure vehicles that use the same or similar airbag inflator are recalled.

As part of these efforts and its ongoing investigation into both the defect and the scope of the recalls, the agency also issued a General Order to Takata and all 10 of the vehicle manufacturers that use Takata airbag inflators - BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota - requiring each manufacturer to file, under oath, a detailed report and produce all related documents about completed, ongoing or planned testing of Takata inflators outside the current regional recall areas.

The agency said it is demanding this information to compel Takata and the affected industry to be "frank with not only NHTSA, but the American public, as to what testing and additional steps they have done and plan to do to control and mitigate the risk associated with Takata's defective inflators".

Additionally, NHTSA issued a Special Order to Takata, the second the agency has issued to the manufacturer regarding this defect, compelling it to provide, under oath, documents and detailed information on the propellant used in Takata's inflators.

Takata has publicly conceded that it changed the chemical mix of its airbag inflator propellant in newly designed inflators. As part of its ongoing investigation, the agency will analyse the information received to determine if the chemical composition of Takata's propellant mix may be a cause and/or contributing factor in the airbag inflator ruptures.

"We now know that millions of vehicles must be recalled to address defective Takata airbags and our aggressive investigation is far from over," said NHTSA deputy administrator David Friedman. "We're pushing Takata and all affected manufacturers to issue the recall and to ensure the recalls capture the full scope of the problems."

In addition to the General Order and Special Order, NHTSA is issuing a Recall Acknowledgement Letter, a routine response to all Safety Recall Reports filed with the agency. The letter summarises the details of the most recent report submitted by Takata regarding its defective passenger side airbag inflators and identifies the information gaps the agency is insisting Takata clarify to ensure it provides the full information required by law.

While NHTSA is not aware of either field incidents or test data suggesting that the problem affecting passenger-side airbags in the areas of persistently high humidity extends beyond those areas, the agency has been pushing the industry to perform testing to ensure that current recalls effectively cover vehicles with airbags that could be potentially affected by this defect.

The NHTSA also said the information the agency receives from Takata and the auto manufacturers will provide further information and details needed to continue its investigation into this complex issue. Responses to the General Order and Special Order are due to NHTSA by 5 December.