U.S. senators urge NHTSA to accelerate Takata air bag recall

DETROIT/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senators Edward Markey and Richard Blumenthal on Wednesday renewed their call for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to accelerate the recall of potentially defective Takata Corp air bags.

A Takata airbag that was removed from a 2001 BMW vehicle under a factory recall program is shown in Alexandria, Virginia December 26, 2015. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

The lawmakers cited a report on Tuesday by the Senate Commerce Committee alleging Takata “falsified data to cover up problems” with its air bags, and said the Japanese supplier might have lied to safety regulators for years.

On Wednesday, NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said the agency “has taken unprecedented efforts to address the Takata issue, including the first use of the agency’s accelerated remedy authority,” and that it will “continue to use every tool available to make sure every American vehicle has safe air bags.”

Reuters reported on Monday that NHTSA continues to investigate whether the recalls of nearly 29 million defective Takata inflators in the United States should be expanded to include another 70 million to 90 million inflators with ammonium nitrate.

In a statement, Markey and Blumenthal described the additional air bags as “potentially lethal” and “ticking time bombs” and said the company showed a “pernicious disregard” for the safety of U.S. drivers.

NHTSA on Tuesday cited a consent order issued last November under which all Takata ammonium nitrate-based inflators must be recalled by 2019 “unless Takata can establish their long-term safety.”

The agency has said that some replacement inflators “may be effective for several years, but not for the full life of your vehicle, and therefore may also have to be replaced.”

On Wednesday, Takata said it has “dramatically increased” production of replacement parts and through its consent order with NHTSA is “committed to a comprehensive framework to address safety concerns with airbag inflators, including through service life testing of inflators not subject to recall.”

Former managers interviewed by Reuters described “chronic” quality failures at Takata’s North American plants, an assessment reflected in dozens of company emails and documents dating to 2001. Those problems, the former managers said, make it difficult for the company and regulators to pinpoint which inflators, among tens of millions, pose a danger.

When exposed to moisture, ammonium nitrate can cause the inflator to rupture with deadly force, spraying shrapnel into vehicle occupants.

On Tuesday, a group of 10 automakers said the cause of Takata air bag ruptures linked to 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries is a combination of exposure to humidity, design and manufacturing issues, and use of ammonium nitrate.

Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Andrea Ricci and Jonathan Oatis