Takata faces questions over air bag fix as recalls expand

Tue May 26, 2015 9:08pm EDT
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By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) - Automakers and safety regulators could take months to nail down why air bag inflators made by Takata Corp (7312.T: Quote) are exploding with too much force, meaning consumers cannot be certain replacement inflators installed under a sweeping recall are safe, industry officials involved in the process said.

Takata, 11 automakers that used its air bag technology

and U.S. safety regulators are pursuing separate efforts to determine the root cause of problems linked to at least six deaths.

A subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing on June 2 on the problems that lead to the recall.

Replacement inflators that are currently being installed could eventually need to be replaced if it turns out that the real problem was not addressed before Takata began making parts to fix about 34 million vehicles covered by the expanded U.S. recall announced last week, several industry officials familiar with the probes said. The air bags can explode with too much force, causing shrapnel to fly out and hit drivers and passengers.

"If you don't find out the root cause, who knows? We may have this same discussion again in four, five, six, seven, 10 years," said David Kelly, a former acting NHTSA administrator now charged with leading a consortium of 10 automakers investigating the Takata inflators.

Kelly did not say how soon his group would finish its work. "It is apparent to us that we have a lot of work in front of us," he said.

"We are confident that our new air bags are safe," Takata said in a statement on Tuesday. The company has organized an "independent Quality Assurance Panel" led by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner. That panel is conducting “a comprehensive review to ensure Takata's current manufacturing procedures meet best practices,” the company said.   Continued...

Deployed Takata manufactured airbags are seen on the driver and passenger side of a 2007 Dodge Charger at a recycled auto parts lot in Detroit, Michigan May 20, 2015.  REUTERS/Rebecca Cook