Continuing Takata airbag recall expands by 6.5 million cars

A witness describes the results left after a Takata airbag inflator explodes in a victim’s vehicle at last fall’s Senate hearings into the airbag fiasco. Today, Toyota, Nissan and Honda added millions of vehicles to the numbers recalled.

When the exploding airbags first made news a few years ago, few observers believed that the problem would grow to the size to which it has grown. They were wrong. Since the major recalls of problem vehicles began in 2008 25 million vehicles have been recalled worldwide due to the problem. The problem was caused by the rupture of the airbag inflator housing on deployment. In turn, the shrapnel created by the blast tears through the passenger compartment with deadly effect. Today, the recall topped the 30-million vehicle mark. Toyota, Nissan and Honda, the “Big Three” Japanese automakers added a minimum of 6.5 million cars to the total number of cars recalled globally. In a Tokyo announcement, reported by Reuters, Toyota and Nissan announced the recall of 6.5 million vehicles. Honda declined to release figures.

Toyota announced that it would recall about 5 million Corolla and Vitz vehicles in Japan and Europe. Nissan said it would recall 1.56 million vehicles but declined to identify specific models. Honda also did not announce which vehicles would be involved in the recall. Honda, however, has been hard-hit by the Takata airbag crisis as the airbag manufacturer was, until recently, the automaker’s primary airbag subsystem supplier. Nearly 6 million vehicles have been affected by this recall. And, the six deaths linked to this problem have occurred in Honda vehicles. The latest death occurred in Texas two months ago, while another injury was recently reported in Louisiana. Scores of persons have been reported injured as a result of the Takata airbag problem.

Though separate industry investigations, one launched by consortium of automakers led by Toyota and the other by Honda, are seeking the root cause of the problem, speculation centers on the propellant used to inflate Takata airbags. For some time, the airbag manufacturer has used an ammonium nitrate-based propellant to explode the airbags (airbags are blasted out in microseconds to protect passengers). Ammonium nitrate is particularly susceptible to damage from moisture and heat. The combination causes the explosive to decay and become more potent as it wears. The result is that any blast created to propel an airbag, over time, becomes more powerful. The more powerful blast shatters the airbag inflator housings, causing the problems.

This problem has been in the news nearly weekly for at least a year. With that said, Takata announced recently that it expected to return to profitability this year, though observers tend to doubt this. Further, the airbag manufacturer indicated that it had not put aside near enough funding to cover any potential losses that the airbag problem might cause, the Reuters report indicated.

Takata’s is facing more than just financial woes, as well. So far, it is facing multiple consumer lawsuits. The suits were consolidated and moved to Miami, Florida in March. And, it is also facing at least one criminal probe and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also looking into this ongoing matter closely.

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