Why are U.S. auto safety regulators opening a new investigation into Takata airbag inflators installed in millions of vehicles built over the past 20 years?
Some of these vehicles have the original inflators that were installed during their manufacture and some have inflators installed to replace the previously recalled vehicles. In certain situations, primarily long exposure to extreme heat and humidity, these inflators can rupture unexpectedly, sending shards of metal through the interior of the vehicle, with the potential to cause injury and death.
What is an “inflator”?
An airbag inflator is a small explosive device designed to ignite in a fraction of a second in a vehicle crash, then quickly fill a large cushion with inert gas to help protect and protect occupants from serious injury.
A Japanese family business called Takata, now controlled by Chinese company Joyson Electronic Corp, began supplying air bags to car manufacturers around the world in the late 1980s.
Takata inflators manufactured since the late 1990s use a powerful chemical, ammonium nitrate, as a propellant. When this chemical is exposed for long periods of time to moisture and heat, it tends to decompose and become volatile and potentially explosive.
When did Takata know?
Takata was made aware of the inflator’s first rupture in 2003. Some company executives were told of other inflator ruptures afterwards. Some test report data has been altered by Takata employees to hide this from customers of Takata automakers.
The first Takata-related recall – of 4,000 Honda Accord and Civic – was announced in 2008. Over the next five years, Honda Motor Co, Toyota Motor Corp, Nissan Motor Co, Mazda Motor Corp and BMW AG recalled nearly 4 million US vehicles for inflator ruptures, a total that rose to over 10 million in 2014 and ultimately to 67 million in 2016.
Takata filed for bankruptcy in the United States and Japan in 2017.
Over the past decade, more than 100 million vehicles equipped with Takata airbag inflators have been recalled around the world. Of the US recalls, about 50 million have been repaired or replaced.
There have been at least 28 deaths worldwide, including 19 in the United States, and more than 400 injuries related to faulty Takata inflators.
The last investigation
To help alleviate ammonium nitrate issues, Takata agreed in 2015 to start building original equipment and replacement inflators with a desiccant, called a desiccant, to absorb excess moisture.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said there had been no reported breaks in vehicles on the road with airbag inflators with the drying agent.
The agency said in September 2021 it “wanted to assess the future risk” of inflators made with desiccant and installed in vehicles that have not been recalled.
The new survey includes vehicles assembled by Honda, Ford Motor Co, Toyota, General Motors Co, Nissan, Subaru, Tesla Inc, Ferrari NV, Mazda, Daimler AG, BMW, Chrysler (now part of Stellantis NV), Porsche Cars and Jaguar Land Rover (owned by Tata Motors), among others.
The NHTSA said its investigation “will require detailed information on Takata’s production processes and field inflator investigations.”
(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit and David Shepardson in Washington; editing by Matthew Lewis)
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