Investigation Into Takata Air Bag Recall Widens

Takata Corp Chief Executive Shigehisa Takada at a media conference in Tokyo on June 25 to discuss massive recalls that seek to fix potentially deadly air bags. (PHOTO CREDIT: Yuya Shino / Reuters)
Takata Corp Chief Executive Shigehisa Takada at a media conference in Tokyo on June 25 to discuss massive recalls that seek to fix potentially deadly air bags. (PHOTO CREDIT: Yuya Shino / Reuters)

For embattled Japanese air bag maker Takata, this week brought good news and bad.

U.S. safety regulators early in the week announced that the recall linked to potentially deadly frontal airbags will be smaller than originally predicted. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also said it has begun an investigation that could yet add millions more vehicles using Takata’s air bag inflators due to new reports of dangerous malfunctions.

The latest investigation could potentially expand a future recall to cover not just older vehicles but millions of newer models. And the new NHTSA probe is targeting a wider range of air bag types, including side-impact restraints, not just the frontal devices covered by the original Takata recall.

The current recall was triggered by reports that at least eight people had been killed, with at least 100 more injured, due to faulty air bag inflators, the explosive devices that cause frontal driver and passenger airbags to burst from their hiding place in the steering wheel and dashboard in a forward crash. While a precise cause has yet to be determined, the inflators can malfunction explosively, blasting plastic and metal shrapnel into the passenger compartment.

As part of the recall, NHTSA initially ordered 11 different automakers to replace inflators used in 34 million driver and passenger air bags. The agency has now reduced that by about 40 percent — to 23.4 million airbags in 19.2 million vehicles.

There appear to be several reasons for the discrepancy. For one thing, a large number of vehicles using the suspect air bags turned out to have been sold outside the United States. Meanwhile some vehicles initially were counted twice, since they were equipped with both driver and passenger air bags using Takata inflators.

The recall has been expanded repeatedly over the last several years, but has continued to focus on older vehicles and driver and passenger frontal air bags.

That could change if the new NHTSA probe uncovers new and broader problems. The first sign of trouble surfaced with the report of a Takata air bag failure in a 2015 Volkswagen Tiguan. In this instance, a side impact air-bag misfired after a collision with a deer, the shrapnel causing a near-fatal injury to the driver.

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SOURCE: NBC News, Paul A. Eisenstein

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