National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials today made good on their earlier threat to force Takata Corp. to issue a national recall of all vehicles in the U.S. equipped with its potentially deadly airbags or face that will quickly escalate into the millions of dollars.
In a letter to Takata officials, the agency told the supplier it had until Dec. 2 to comply with its demand or it face a fine of $7,000 per vehicle per day. Takata hasn’t issued a response to the letter.
“NHTSA is issuing this recall request letter to notify you that the agency has tentatively concluded that a defect related to motor vehicle safety exists on a national basis in the subject driver’s side air bag inflators, and to demand that Takata recall the inflators,” Frank Borris, who heads NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation, wrote in the letter to Takata.
The supplier’s airbags can explode with such force that plastic and metal shrapnel is sent flying into the cabin of the vehicle causing injury and even death. At least five deaths and more than 30 injuries have been attributed to the problem.
While the Dec. 2 deadline looms large, it’s not the end of the process. If Takata refuses to expand the recall, NHTSA’s next step would be to issue an initial decision demanding a recall and schedule a public hearing.
If after the hearing, the company still refuses to comply, then the agency would have to go to court to enforce the recall demand.
The airbags in question are currently subject to a regional recall in areas of the country with high humidity and affects 7.8 million vehicles. However, there have been documented cases of the problem occurring in areas outside of those “high-humidity regions” in recent weeks.
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Last week, NHTSA asked Takata and five automakers — Honda Motor Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC, Mazda Motor Co. and BMW AG — to issue nationwide recalls for millions of vehicles with driver-side air bags. None have agreed to do so, although Honda has been quietly repairing any vehicles brought to dealers for the issue regardless of location.
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The supplier also maintains a national recall isn’t warranted. It further claims that if the recall were expanded to a national scale, it would divert the needed parts from the areas where the need is the greatest.
NHTSA argues in the letter that it’s asked the supplier for evidence supporting its assertion that the national recall isn’t necessary and Takata failed to reply.
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“Despite the severe consequences of airbag ruptures and mounting data demonstrating a safety defect, Takata responded that it did not agree with NHTSA’s basis for a nationwide recall of driver’s side airbags. Takata also continues to disclaim any finding of a safety-related defect,” Norris wrote in the letter.
“However, Takata has not provided any new information to support its position that a regional recall is appropriate, nor has Takata provided any explanation for driver side airbag ruptures that have occurred outside the areas of high absolute humidity.”
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