Takata executive warns about ability to fix deadly air bag flaw

Fri Nov 21, 2014 12:49am EST
 
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By Eric Beech and Ben Klayman

WASHINGTON/DETROIT (Reuters) - An executive from Japan's Takata Corp (7312.T: Quote) told U.S. senators on Thursday the supplier is urgently trying to ramp up replacement parts for millions of vehicles fitted with potentially deadly air bags, but said it may not be able to move quickly enough.

The U.S. auto safety regulator also warned of the risks of moving to a nationwide recall, as senators have urged, saying such a move could divert replacement parts from humid regions where the defective air bags are more likely to rupture upon deployment, shooting metal shards into cars.

At least five fatalities have been linked to the defect so far, mostly in the United States.

The hearing by the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee exposed several blind spots of regulators and the auto industry about the scope and urgency of the air bags' dangers.

About 16 million cars with Takata air bags have been recalled worldwide, with more than 10 million of those in the United States. But regulators and Takata, which supplies one in five air bags globally, have yet to pinpoint why the parts are at risk.

Hiroshi Shimizu, Takata's senior vice president for global quality assurance, acknowledged that even if the company ramps up production of replacement kits beyond the current pace of 300,000 a month, it may still not have enough parts. "Even if we increase to 450,000, maybe still that's not speedy enough," he said.

David Friedman, deputy administrator of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), told the committee his agency is in touch with two other suppliers to determine whether they are able to make replacement parts.

Friedman came under fire for NHTSA allowing automakers to send out notices of "safety campaigns" rather than formal recalls, leaving customers confused over the severity of the problem. Friedman said his agency would have more control over automakers if Congress passed legislation raising the maximum allowable fine to punish uncooperative automakers, which is currently capped at $35 million.   Continued...

 
United States Air Force First Lt. Stephanie Erdman, from Destin, Florida, testifies before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on "Examining Takata Airbag Defects and the Vehicle Recall Process." in Washington November 20, 2014.  REUTERS/Gary Cameron