Takata will 'rapidly' cut production of volatile air bag chemical

Tue Jun 2, 2015 6:38pm EDT
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By Paul Lienert and David Morgan

WASHINGTON/DETROIT (Reuters) - Takata Corp will "rapidly" reduce production of a volatile chemical that has been linked to ruptured air bag inflators, a company executive told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday.

The chemical, ammonium nitrate, "appears to be one of the factors" contributing to inflator ruptures linked to six deaths and hundreds of injuries, Kevin Kennedy, executive vice president of Takata subsidiary TK Holdings, said.

Kennedy told a House subcommittee that Takata has "alternate propellants now with guanidine nitrate. We started production a year or two ago, and we’re continuing to ramp those up. I think overall you will see our production of ammonium nitrate go down rapidly."

Takata is the only major air bag manufacturer using ammonium nitrate as an air bag propellant. Kennedy said Takata plans to continue using ammonium nitrate, including a newer version of the compound that does not react as violently to moisture.

However, the company is still supplying some automakers with an older inflator and propellant that uses an earlier version of the compound. The older-style inflators also have been installed as replacement parts in an unspecified number of vehicles over the past year and may have to be replaced by newer designs, Kennedy said.

Representative Michael Burgess, the Texas Republican who chaired Tuesday's House subcommittee hearing, said he "couldn't believe what they were telling me."

"They are still making an air bag with ammonium nitrate as a propellant without a desiccant and they're putting that in replacement vehicles and new vehicles," Burgess said. "It almost seems like there should be a warning label stamped on the car."

Kennedy said Takata has been buying replacement inflators from competitors TRW Automotive Inc [TRWTA.UL] and Autoliv Inc (ALV.N: Quote), both of which use guanidine nitrate.   Continued...

Takata Executive Vice President Kevin Kennedy testifies at a hearing of a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the Takata airbag recall, on Capitol Hill in Washington June 2, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst