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Airbag Recall Makes History

May 21, 2015

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Takata, the Japanese supplier of airbags, finally admitted that its airbags are defective and agreed to double the number of vehicles recalled in the United States.  After more than a decade of denial, Takata now says there were errors in manufacturing and admitted flaws in the airbags' design and component parts.  Nearly 34 million cars, 1 in 7 of the 250 million cars on American roads, are subject to the recall.   This Takata airbag recall is the largest automotive recall in American history.  The airbags can explode when deployed, spewing metal debris throughout the car.  Six deaths and more than 100 injuries are linked to the defective airbag.  Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox said that Takata had refused to acknowledge the defective nature of the airbags until yesterday.  Former Takata engineers told the New York Times last year that they raised concerns more than 10 years ago that the ammonium nitrate used to inflate the airbag can degrade over time if exposed to high humidity and temperature swings.  This can cause "aggressive combustion" of the airbag.  Last week a former Takata consultant said he performed tests in the early 2000s that showed leaks in some inflators that allowed moisture to seep into the device over time, allowing the ammonium nitrate to break down and the airbag to explode.  The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has been criticized by safety advocates as being too easy on the industry it oversees.  In 2009, the agency opened an investigation into Takata airbags, only to close it six months later citing "insufficient evidence."  Since Mark R. Rosekind became the new Administrator, the agency has become more aggressive.  Ten automakers have recalled cars, including Toyota, BMW, Honda, Nissan and Chrysler.  The final recall numbers may change as more tests are performed.  The problem now is replacement parts.  It may take years before all the defective airbags are fixed since parts suppliers are struggling to keep up with ever increasing demand.

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