Automakers avoid new U.S. recall of 56M Takata airbag inflators

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WASHINGTON — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday it will not require automakers to recall 56 million additional Takata airbag inflators, saying the devices do not pose a safety risk.

Automakers in the U.S. have previously recalled than 60 million Takata airbag inflators that could explode when deployed, sending deadly metal fragments flying in a defect linked to at least 25 deaths worldwide.

The issue sparked the largest auto industry safety recall in history, involving more than 100 million inflators among 19 major automakers worldwide and is linked to more than 290 injuries.

In 2016, NHTSA ordered the recall of 40 million inflators and said it would review by the end of 2019 whether the airbags with a “dessicant” or drying agent needed to be recalled.

On Thursday, the agency said it will continue to monitor their performance over time. NHTSA said separately Volkswagen Group will recall 370,000 vehicles with Takata inflators with the drying agent.

The agency has said long-term exposure to high heat and humidity degrade the inflators, making them more prone to deadly ruptures.

NHTSA said it has reviewed reports of extensive testing of the inflators in making the decision and said a group testing inflators “will further surveil and assess” those inflators “and their performance in the field.”

Advocates respond

The Center for Auto Safety advocacy group criticized the decision.

“Today, by essentially announcing only a plan to monitor the rest of the airbag population, NHTSA has reinforced its total lack of interest in most basic parts of their mission: overseeing recalls, undertaking independent research not requested by industry, and sharing vital safety information with the public,” the group said in a statement.

“When it comes to dessicated airbags, conveniently, NHTSA chose to neither undertake any of its own testing, nor release industry information to the public, until the exact moment when consumers are least likely to be paying attention. It is impossible to know whether to trust the NHTSA evaluation of this information based on the complete lack of transparency which they have displayed during this process. One can only hope they are correct…”

Bankruptcy

The defect led Takata to file for bankruptcy protection in June 2017. Its core safety products business later was acquired by China-owned Key Safety System and renamed Joyson Safety Systems.

Earlier in 2017, the company agreed to plead guilty to criminal wrongdoing to resolve a U.S. Justice Department investigation. Prosecutors in Detroit charged three former senior Takata executives with falsifying test results to conceal the inflator defect but none of the Japanese nationals have been arrested or appeared in a U.S. court because the Japanese don’t extradite their citizens to the U.S.

Starting in 2000, Takata submitted false test reports to automakers to induce them to buy faulty airbag inflators, according to the Justice Department.

Automotive News contributed to this report.

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Saurabh Shukla

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