December 9, 2016 / 7:06 PM / 2 years ago

U.S. government seeks to speed up Takata air bag replacements

(Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday said it will press the auto industry to accelerate the pace of replacements for defective Takata Corp 7312.T air bag inflators and signaled a likely widening of the industry’s largest ever recall.

An attendant walks at a Takata Corp display in a showroom for vehicles in Tokyo, Japan February 5, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai - RTX25K52

U.S. officials now say at least 184 people have been injured in incidents involving potentially deadly Takata air bags.

On a conference call with reporters, the department said the Takata recall would eventually include about 42 million U.S. vehicles and between 64 million and 69 million air bag inflators in the United States.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is part of the Transportation Department, issued a list on Friday of all vehicle models from 19 automakers that are involved in the Takata recalls. New to the list is the Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA.O) Model S, with the recall affecting certain cars from the 2012 to 2016 model years.

About 12.5 million of the 46 million air bag inflators already recalled have been replaced so far, NHTSA said.

Takata spokesman Jared Levy said in a statement the company backed “NHTSA’s efforts to accelerate the Coordinated Remedy Program and target a 100 percent recall completion rate.” Levy said Takata “has dramatically ramped up production and capacity of airbag replacement kits in advance of the increased demand that will come as additional recalls take effect.”

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida complained about the slow pace of the recall in a statement on Friday, saying it meant that many of the faulty air bags will not be replaced until next decade. Under the current schedule, some air bag replacement parts do not need to be available until September 2020.

“Drivers should not have to wait that long to get what could be a ticking time bomb out of their cars,” Nelson said.

U.S. safety regulators have linked 11 deaths in the United States to Takata air bags that ruptured, sending metal shrapnel flying inside vehicles.

Worldwide, at least 16 deaths are now linked to the defective air bag inflators including five in Malaysia. Nearly 100 million Takata air bag inflators have been ordered to be withdrawn globally.

Nine of the 11 U.S. deaths have been reported in 2001-2003 Honda Motor Co (7267.T) and Acura vehicles, which NHTSA classified in June as high risk. The agency has urged owners to stop driving the vehicles immediately, until they get repaired.

The 313,000 vehicles identified in June have as high as a 50 percent chance of a dangerous rupture in a crash, NHTSA said.

Reporting by David Shepardson and Bernie Woodall; Editing by Tom Brown

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