Exclusive: Takata changes chemical compound involved in air bag recalls

Wed Nov 12, 2014 12:27pm EST
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By Maki Shiraki, Paul Lienert and Ben Klayman

TOKYO/DETROIT (Reuters) - Takata Corp (7312.T: Quote) has modified the composition of an air bag propellant that contains a volatile chemical at the center of a recall of millions of cars worldwide, the company told Reuters.

A Takata official, who did not want to be named but spoke on behalf of the company, did not specify how the recipe has changed, but said ammonium nitrate remained a part of the mix. He told Reuters the shift was part of its process of 'kaizen', or continual improvement, and the company believed the new composition was safer than the one used before.

In response to a question, the official said:

"There is no admission of a defect with the original version. There has not been any finding that ammonium nitrate or the earlier composition was somehow flawed. We changed the composition in an effort to improve quality."

The official said the company used the modified mix in replacement bags fitted in cars brought in during the recalls, but declined to say exactly when the change was made or in which models, and how many vehicles' air bags with the new propellant have been installed.

The official also declined to comment on whether the new mix was cheaper than the previous one. "There have been no problems with the new versions so far," he said.

Takata has said the original version of the compound, when exposed to moisture or improperly processed, can cause the inflators to explode with excessive force, spraying metal shards inside the car. Its air bags, used by many leading car makers, have been linked to at least four deaths in the United States and are the focus of a U.S. regulatory probe and multiple global recalls in the past six years.

Since 2000, Takata has made more than 100 million inflators according to industry estimates and company data. Starting in 2008, more than 17 million cars equipped with its air bags have been recalled, including more than 11 million in the United States.   Continued...

A billboard advertisement of Takata Corp is pictured in Tokyo September 17, 2014. REUTERS/Toru Hanai