Nissan joins Toyota, Honda in dropping Takata airbag inflators

Sen. Richard Blumental, D-Conn., holds an airbag and inflator mechanism at hearings on the Takata airbag crisis during the summer. Nissan today became the latest automaker to halt using Takata-made airbag inflators.

Nissan today became the latest addition to those automakers that have halted using Takata airbag parts. Dion Corbett, spokesman for the automaker, told Bloomberg News in an email that Nissan had decided to “no longer use inflators containing ammonium nitrate in airbags for future models.” Nissan will work as quickly as possible to replace ammonium nitrate-powered inflators as the automaker puts “our customers’ safety first.”

Joining Honda, Toyota and Mazda, Nissan’s move puts it in line “the recent announcement from the United States’ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).” NHTSA this week ordered Takata to phase out ammonium nitrate-based airbag inflators by 2018. At the same time, the agency announced sanctions totaling a record $200 million against Takata for its role in what has become the largest safety-related recall in automotive history.

Meantime, Toyota firmly rejected Takata yesterday. In a meeting with reporters, Akio Toyoda, chief executive officer, adamantly told reporters that “the inflator using ammonium nitrate produced by Takata will not be adopted by Toyota.” He concluded by saying that Toyota is concerned about “above anything else is the safety and peace of mind of customers.”

Honda became the first major Japanese carmaker to cut off Takata within hours of the NHTSA action on Tuesday. In rejecting Takata products, Honda said accused he airbag manufacturer of manipulating test data. Honda’s action paved the way for other automakers to adopt similar exit strategies. Indeed, Subaru and Mitsubishi are reportedly considering dropping Takata.

It has been a particularly bad for besieged airbag manufacturer Takata. In the space of five days, Takata:

  • Saw the initial automotive quartet drop its products.
  • Saw its stock take a drubbing, losing 39 percent of its value in three days.
  • Posted an 8.66 billion yen — $71 million – loss for the second quarter
  • Saw its initial estimates of a 20 billion yen yearly profit trashed, reduced to five billion yen.

According to Bloomberg, Honda’s actions were unprecedented. Japanese companies rely on the friendly, comfortable relationships that are built over decades. Honda’s repudiation of Takata, apparently caught many, including Takata, by surprise. Bloomberg noted that the airbag manufacturer had counted on the continuing support of Honda and other automakers to shore up its fortunes. And, until Honda acted at mid-week, it looked as if Takata’s strategy was working. Honda’s move sank these hopes which were further dashed by the comments of Toyoda.

Problems with Takata airbags were identified as long ago as 2002. Between 2002 and 2008, there were a series of probes that resulted in the first major airbag recalls. Between 2008 and 2015, there were several succeeding recalls that culminated in the largest auto safety-related action in history. Worldwide figures suggest that nearly 40 million vehicles are affected by defective Takata inflator parts. In the U.S., the numbers have been put at about 20 million vehicles with 23 million inflators that need replacement. Honda, Toyota and Nissan, since they have the largest numbers of vehicles with Takata equipment, have felt the sting of the airbag scandal the most.

To date, the Takata airbag scandal has been linked directly to eight deaths and more than 100 injuries. The problem seems to revolve around the propellant used, ammonium nitrate. As it deteriorates, the blast pressure created on deployment shatters inflator housings, sending shrapnel scything through passenger compartments with, sometimes, deadly effect.

In related actions,

  • Takata has hired SMBC Nikko Securities to draft a lifesaving plan.
  • Analysts question whether Takata can survive at all when its major customers are bailing out.
  • Autoliv, Daicel and TRW Automotive will supply Honda, traditionally Takata’s largest customer.

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