At least six automakers expanded their recalls this week for faulty airbag inflators from parts supplier Takata Corp. The affected airbags can launch shrapnel into passengers as they deploy; incidents were observed in high-humidity areas, prompting 10 automakers to recall scores of 2000s-era models registered in states such as Florida. The total previously stood at nearly 8 million cars, but that figure is rising fast.
After findings suggested the inflators could fail outside the recalled areas — and were possible with driver’s-side airbags, not just the passenger airbags originally investigated — the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration pressed on Nov. 18 for automakers to recall cars across all 50 states. This week, many automakers expanded their campaigns, but only Honda pushed the recall nationwide. Just this morning, the automaker said it would recall another 3 million cars for the driver’s-side airbag, The Detroit News reports. That brings the total to at least 11 million, and it’s the latest in a string of developments in a recall crisis blamed for at least five deaths so far.
The news began Tuesday with Subaru and Mitsubishi, which expanded earlier recalls on six models (see the full list here). Those recalls, which previously encompassed cars in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and several U.S. territories, expanded to the Gulf Coast and southeast seaboard, according to the AP via The Detroit Free Press.
On Wednesday, Ford said it would expand its recall for the 2004-05 Ranger pickup truck and 2005-06 GT exotic car in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, plus humid regions of the Gulf Coast and several U.S. territories, according to CNBC. The next day, The Detroit News reported that Mazda would expand the recall by some 40,000 cars across four models to include the Gulf Coast — far more than its original Florida and Hawaii recalls.
The same day, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced an expansion of its own airbag recall on a slew of mid-2000s pickup trucks, SUVs and Chrysler 300 sedans in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. But the campaign covered just one model, the 2003 Ram pickup truck, expanding coverage to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and several U.S. territories, according to The Detroit News.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration blasted FCA in an emailed statement. “Chrysler’s latest recall is insufficient, doesn’t meet our demands and fails to include all inflators covered by Takata’s defect information report,” the agency said.
That’s just one contention in the snowballing saga that’s roiled Congress and prompted Toyota to call for independent testing of the replacement inflators, whose resistance to the same explosions has come into question. Two weeks after NHTSA’s request for a nationwide recall, a senior Takata executive told lawmakers that company testing still upheld the notion that faulty inflators can explode only in high-humidity areas, according to The Washington Post.
Regulators disagree. NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman has reportedly threatened serious fines against the company, which could total $7,000 per vehicle — more than $75 billion, at minimum. But the agency needs to go through a series of actions, including public and court hearings, to force it. It’s begun to take such steps, Friedman said to Congress.
Takata is just one of three major airbag suppliers in the world, an analyst told CNBC. But it may not need to replace all the current inflators. Honda’s Rick Schostek reportedly told legislators on Wednesday that the automaker is working with other airbag manufacturers to ensure it has enough replacements.
Cars.com photo by Joe Wiesenfelder