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The Japanese auto parts manufacturer Takata Corporation is expected to announce a huge expansion of an already massive recall, indicating that another 35 to 40 million airbag inflators used in vehicles worldwide may be prone to over-inflate and explode airbags in a crash, potentially causing metal debris and shrapnel cause serious injuries for passengers.
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, U.S. regulators are expected to announce an expanded Takata airbag inflator recall sometime this week, potentially today. The company has already been forced to recall 287.5 million inflators worldwide, including 28.8 million in the U.S., which have affected about 24 million sold nationwide by most major auto makers.
It is unclear how many more vehicles will actually be impacted by this recall expansion, but it is likely to create an even greater backlog of repairs, as only about 8 million vehicles with recalled Takata airbag inflators have actually been repaired over the past year.
The airbag inflators pose a serious risk as vehicles remain on the road. At least ten deaths and hundreds of severe injuries have already been linked to the problems, with many first responders describing horrific injuries among those impaled by the debris shot out of the airbag.
Nearly every major automaker has been impacted by the recalls, including Honda, General Motors, Ford, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Chrysler (FCA), Mazda, Toyota, and various others.
Pace of Airbag Repairs Lag
Amid concerns about the pace of recall repairs, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a Consent Order in November 2015, which requires Takata to be cooperative with the agency in all future actions involving the recall investigation and demands that the NHTSA be head controller of the recall campaigns in the U.S., granting the agency exclusive control in organizing and prioritizing the recall process to speed up the repairs. In addition, the NHTSA fined Takata $200 million.
The efforts to repair vehicles with recalled airbag inflators have faced an uphill climb, as additional recalls continue to be issued, adding more and more vehicles to the list.
In December, the NHTSA announced that the repair process had begun accelerating, after subcontracting out 70% of the required replacement inflators from Takata, indicating that it had reach a 27.3% repair rate of the nearly 30 million vehicles recalled. The agency’s announcement was then followed by nearly 7 million additional vehicles being recalled in the first two months of 2016, involving automakers such as Ford, Mazda, Honda, Volkswagen, Audi, Saab, Saturn, and Mercedes Benz.
Under the consent order, the NHTSA ordered Takata to stop manufacturing phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate propellant inflators that investigators believe are the root cause of the problems. Investigators from the agency have insisted the inflators ammonium nitrate based propellants are unstable when exposed to high humidity causing them to rupture either spontaneously or when needed in automobile crashes.
The ammonium nitrate based inflators have been found to pose explosion risks under certain conditions, unlike normal inflators. Investigations by the NHTSA have identified the inflators are more susceptible to explode in more humid climates, mainly southern regions of the U.S. that are closer to the equator. The NHTSA has specifically stated that the ammonium nitrate based propellants may not be suitable for inflator designs due to the unknown effects of climate impact.
Currently, the NHTSA is reviewing the results of three separate safety investigations on what has caused the inflators to rupture.