CARS.COM — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration today added four new models to the airbag recalls from Takata Corp. and said that more than a quarter of the cars under all Takata recalls have been fixed. The latest addition involves Honda CR-Vs, Mazda6s and two Subaru models: the Legacy and Outback.
Related: More Takata Airbag News
It’s the latest development in a massive crisis for Takata, a major automotive supplier. When exposed to high heat and humidity for long periods, Takata’s ammonium nitrate airbag inflators can cause a reaction that propels metal shrapnel into occupants as the airbags deploy.
‘Safety Margin Model Years’
So far, faulty inflators have prompted recalls under NHTSA’s safety margin model years, spokesman Gordon Trowbridge told reporters during a press conference. That means if Takata airbag inflators rupture during testing in a given model year for a given car, NHTSA orders a recall for that particular year plus a few surrounding years if those vehicles have the same Takata inflators.
NHTSA says it has found five new passenger-side inflators that ruptured under testing for cars under recall, but extending the margin around the new years meant adding four more cars to the recall list:
- 2005-2008 Mazda6
- 2002-2004 Honda CR-V
- 2005-2008 Subaru Legacy
- 2005-2008 Subaru Outback
All four recalls involve passenger-side airbags. Subaru had not yet previously involved the 2006-2008 Legacy or Outback under its Takata recalls, but the CR-V and Mazda6 were already under other Takata recalls.
Such is the complexity of one of the largest recalls in U.S. history. The Takata recalls involve some 23 million inflators (virtually all of them for frontal airbags) in 19 million cars from 11 automakers.
Trowbridge said he anticipates the latest group will add “a few hundred thousand vehicles” to the total but cautioned that “the math here is fairly complicated. Some of these vehicles have been covered by previous recalls. Some of them may be covered by previous driver’s-side recalls. … In some of these cases we’re going to be asking them to take action twice.”
The actual total could be considerably higher than Trowbridge’s estimate. In a separate statement, Honda said the CR-V addition accounted for 127,000 new inflators, and Subaru spokesman Michael McHale told Cars.com that Subaru’s expansion amounts to 340,000 new cars.
“We should have recall defect information reports from the three affected manufacturers processed and made public hopefully in the next couple of days,” Trowbridge said. “We’re still processing this data. It is subject to change and refinement.”
However, NHTSA’s safety margin means additional model years that still employ the same Takata inflators may not be under recall. Trowbridge noted “there are a handful of models and model years that meet that definition.”
New Death Linked
Experts say the risk of an inflator rupture is highest in regions of high absolute humidity, but recalled cars can still carry the risk long after moving away. Case in point: NHTSA believes a faulty Takata inflator is responsible for a new death from a ruptured driver’s-side airbag in July 2015. The crash involved a recalled 2001 Honda Accord in Pennsylvania — an area with low absolute humidity, but from a car that “had spent several years in the Gulf Coast region,” Trowbridge said.
That potentially raises the Takata toll to eight U.S. deaths plus another one worldwide, along with about 100 injuries.
As of Dec. 4, 27.3 percent of recalled Takata driver’s-side airbag inflators and 25.8 percent of Takata passenger inflators had been repaired, Trowbridge said. (That’s out of the total 23 million inflators, excluding the cars added today.) A combined figure wasn’t immediately available, but that’s a steady — if modest — increase versus NHTSA’s last-reported figures, which covered 22.5 percent of all recalled inflators on Oct. 9. In regions of high absolute humidity the Dec. 4 completion rates are 34.3 percent and 31.8 percent for driver and passenger inflators, respectively.
By March 2016, NHTSA will require all automakers to have enough parts on hand to repair inflators in high-humidity regions. NHTSA anticipates automakers will be on track to meet that target, and about 70 percent of the replacement inflators come from non-Takata suppliers.
On Nov. 3, NHTSA fined Takata $70 million, with another $130 million possible if the agency finds more violations. NHTSA also ordered the supplier to phase out production of ammonium nitrate in its airbags, even as some new cars still have them. Trowbridge said NHTSA’s consent order “is designed to phase [Takata’s ammonium nitrate inflators] out not only of new contracts but production of existing contracts.”
NHTSA says Takata is the only automaker that uses ammonium nitrate as the primary inflator propellant. Barring new evidence, the agency will eventually compel Takata to recall all ammonium nitrate inflators — a move that will add “tens of millions of inflators” to the recall pool down the road, Trowbridge said.