Exclusive: Up to 90 million more Takata airbag inflators may face U.S. recalls

Mon Feb 22, 2016 7:28am EST
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By Paul Lienert and David Shepardson

DETROIT/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. auto safety regulators are examining whether an additional 70 million to 90 million Takata Corp (7312.T: Quote) airbag inflators should be recalled because they may endanger drivers, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

That would nearly quadruple the 29 million inflators recalled so far and linked to nine deaths in the United States.

In all, as many as 120 million Takata inflators in U.S. vehicles contain the same volatile chemical - ammonium nitrate - used in inflators that automakers have recalled, according to company documents reviewed by Reuters and verified by two former Takata managers. The total number has not been previously reported. 

The Japanese supplier, one of the world's largest airbag manufacturers, has said some inflators can rupture and explode with excessive force, spraying metal shards at vehicle occupants.

The number of vehicles affected remains unclear because many have more than one inflator, and not always from the same manufacturer. Before recent recalls of 5.4 million inflators, federal regulators said about 24 million defective Takata inflators were used in about 19 million vehicles that have been recalled since 2004.

For a graphic on how inflators work, see tmsnrt.rs/1JDZ4vq

The former managers described "chronic" quality failures at Takata's North American inflator plants, an assessment reflected in dozens of company emails and documents dating back to 2001. Those problems, the former managers said, make it difficult for the company and regulators to pinpoint which inflators – among tens of millions – pose a danger.

"You have no way of knowing," said one of the former Takata managers, who has direct knowledge of the company's history of manufacturing problems.   Continued...

Visitors walk behind a logo of Takata Corp on its display at a showroom for vehicles in Tokyo, Japan, November 6, 2015. REUTERS/Toru Hanai