Thursday, November 20, 2014 7:23 am
NEW YORK (AFP) – Embattled auto supplier Takata will be under the microscope Thursday when a Senate panel opens a probe into the Japanese company’s dangerously defective airbags, installed in millions of cars worldwide.
Witnesses will include Takata’s top quality assurance executive and officials from Honda and Chrysler, as well as a woman who has sued over allegations that shrapnel from an exploding Takata airbag struck her in the eye.
Also testifying will be a top official with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which Tuesday urged a nationwide recall of Takata airbags.
Takata is accused of knowing for years about the problem, in which its airbags can misfire and send shrapnel into a car’s passengers, and of having covered up its own tests showing dangerous faults in the airbags.
At least five driver deaths and numerous injuries have been linked to the faulty airbags.
The company confirmed last week that it is facing a criminal investigation by the US Justice Department.
The US Senate Commerce Committee is expected to press Takata, automakers, and the NHTSA hard on why recalls have been piecemeal.
So far this year some 16 million vehicles from 10 automakers worldwide have been recalled.
The affected automakers are Honda, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota.
– Under pressure to expand recall –
On Tuesday the NHTSA said an earlier US recall limited to several southern US states needed to be expanded to the full country.
“We now know that millions of vehicles must be recalled to address defective Takata air bags and our aggressive investigation is far from over,” said David Friedman, NHTSA deputy administrator.
“We’re pushing Takata and all affected manufacturers to issue the recall and to ensure the recalls capture the full scope of the problems.”
The company is also under pressure to step up production of replacement airbags.
A Takata spokesman said the auto supplier was “concerned” that an expanded recall could divert needed resources from the regions most in need, Dow Jones Newswires reported.
Questioning by the Commerce Committee is expected to be tough. The panel is the same one that grilled General Motors chief executive Mary Barra over its much-delayed recall for an ignition-switch defect linked to more than 30 deaths.
“The American people deserve to know the whole story behind this airbag recall,” said Senator Bill Nelson, a member of the committee.
“That’s why we’re holding this hearing to get them some answers and spur automakers to do more to help get these dangerous cars off the road and fixed as soon as possible.”
Takata has said it has been truthful about the problems and that it is cooperating with all regulatory inquiries.
The airbags in question were made during the 2000s. At the heart of the problem is Takata’s use of a propellant that can cause the airbags to explode, a problem thought to be exacerbated by humid weather.
Takata has hired New York law firm Dechert to defend itself, said Charlie Sewell, a spokesman for the Japanese company.
“We can confirm that Takata is fully cooperating with the government and their investigations,” Sewell said. “Takata will continue to work with NHTSA on all recall issues.
Automakers said Wednesday they were reviewing the expanded NHTSA request.
“We will continue to cooperate with NHTSA, as we have been, and will take the appropriate action as expeditiously as we can,” said a Ford spokesman.
BMW, which has already recalled 1.6 million cars with the airbag defect, is working with Takata to determine if additional vehicles need to be recalled, a spokesman said. It isn’t clear how many additional cars could be affected, he said.