'Hamburgers', 'hotdogs' and how air bag rivals are struggling to displace Takata

Fri Mar 11, 2016 6:18am EST
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By Naomi Tajitsu

TOKYO (Reuters) - Replacing potentially lethal Takata Corp (7312.T: Quote) air bags in a mass recall is more challenging and time-consuming than expected as rival parts suppliers struggle to make bag inflators that replicate the originals fitted by the Japanese firm.

The recalls so far cover tens of millions of cars made by more than a dozen automakers - and spanning some 170 model variants in the United States alone.

It's rare in a product recall to have alternative suppliers make the replacement parts. But the unprecedented scale of the Takata recalls, where defective air bags have been linked to 10 deaths, has prompted several automakers to source replacement inflators from Takata's rivals.

The recalls highlight the interdependence between Takata, its rivals and automakers facing delays for replacement parts.

"Automakers are very reliant on Takata to produce replacement inflators and to cooperate with ... (rival) companies making Takata-designed inflators," said Scott Upham, CEO of Valient Market Research.

For now, Takata, which the Wall Street Journal reported has hired restructuring lawyers, remains integral to the process. "In the near term, Takata will be kept afloat until all the replacement parts are produced," Upham said.

For the ongoing recall, alternative suppliers including Autoliv (ALV.N: Quote), ZF-TRW and Daicel Corp (4202.T: Quote) have to fashion replacement inflators from similar sized designs in their own product portfolios, and adapt them to Takata's original design to fit the air bag module - the casing containing the air bag.

Inflators, made of stainless steel or aluminum, are not a one-size-fits-all product. They come in basic disk or tubular shapes: 'hamburgers' for driver and front passenger seats, and 'hot dogs' for rear seats, according to an engineer at a major air bag supplier.   Continued...

Technician Edward Bonilla unbolts a recalled Takata airbag inflator after he removed it from a Honda Pilot at the AutoNation Honda dealership service department in Miami, Florida in this June 25, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/Files