Letters to auto makers including Tesla from U.S. regulators say scope of recalls may expand
Faulty Takata air-bag inflaters have been linked to eight deaths world-wide
Source: Associated Press, September 28, 2015 –
Seven more companies including electric-car maker Tesla Motors Inc. could be facing recalls because they use air-bag inflaters made by Takata Corp., according to letters they received last week from U.S. safety regulators.
So far about 23.4 million Takata driver and passenger air-bag inflaters have been recalled on 19.2 million U.S. vehicles sold by 11 companies, including Honda Motor Co. and FiatChrysler Automobiles NV. The inflaters can explode with too much force, spewing metal shrapnel. At least eight people have died world-wide, and hundreds have been injured because of the problem.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent letters to Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar-Land Rover, Suzuki Motor Corp., Tesla, VolvoTrucks, Volkswagen AG and Spartan Motors Inc. seeking information on which models have Takata inflaters.
“It is expected that the scope of the current Takata recalls may expand as time goes on and will likely grow to include vehicles that are outside the scope of the current recalls,” the letters said.
NHTSA said one purpose of the letters was to figure out how many additional vehicles might have to be recalled. The agency is preparing for an Oct. 22 public meeting in Washington, D.C., to discuss a continuing investigation into Takata and whether the agency will take over management of all the recalls to speed up repairs. As of Sept. 1, only 4.4 million air-bag inflaters had been replaced. Auto makers have had to scramble to get parts.
The agency said it also could issue an order expanding the recalls, which now cover 11 auto and truck companies including BMW, Daimler Trucks, Fiat Chrysler, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Honda, Mazda Motor Corp., Mitsubishi, Nissan Motor Co., Subaru and Toyota Motor Corp.
NHTSA is asking each of the seven additional companies to identify every model that uses a Takata air bag inflater with ammonium nitrate as the propellant. The letters say Takata’s theory on the cause of the problem is that the chemical degrades over time. This “could potentially lead to overaggressive combustion or potentially cause the inflater to rupture.” Time, temperature and airborne moisture also play roles in the problem, the letters say.
The agency already was investigating Volkswagen because of a June crash involving an SUV near St. Louis in which the left side air bag inflated with too much force and blew apart the inflater canister. The crash between a deer and a 2015 VW Tiguan was the first reported in a Volkswagen and the first in a side air bag. Previously Takata had said the problem was limited to older designs in front and passenger air bags.
VW said at the time that the Tiguan driver didn’t seek medical attention, and it was working with NHTSA and Takata to better understand the problem. The company wouldn’t comment further on Monday.
Mercedes, Jaguar-Land Rover and Tesla all said the Takata air bags they use aren’t part of current recalls, but wouldn’t say which models had them. Mercedes and Jaguar-Land Rover said they were cooperating with NHTSA.
Messages were left Monday seeking comment from the rest of the companies that received letters from NHTSA.