Takata Controversy: NHTSA Demands Supplier to Expand Air Bag Recall

Nov 19, 2014 02:06 PM EST | Matt Mercuro

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has told the auto industry to recall millions of additional cars equipped with faulty air bags that can possible kill a driver.

The action covers driver's side air bags equipped with inflators made by Takata Corp of Japan. Inflators can reportedly erupt and send metal fragments into the passenger compartment. For now, NHTSA isn't demanding a national recall of Takata's passenger side air bags, which have different inflators.

Vehicles with the affected inflators had only been recalled in regions with high humidity previously in places like Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

Takata said that prolonged exposure to moisture can cause the air bag propellant to burn faster than designed, which causes the issue, according to the Associated Press.

About 8 million cars in the U.S. with Takata inflators have been recalled for issues with either the driver, passenger side air bag, or both. Another 4 million have been recalled outside the U.S.

Five deaths worldwide have been linked to the issue so far, according to the AP.

U.S. regulators say the action is based on incidents involving a death in California and an injury in North Carolina where air bags were "implicated." Both states aren't in the area covered by the previous recall.

Takata said in a company statement that it agrees that the current recall should be expanded if the investigation it's working on with NHTSA decides there is a safety issue. It said that current results show that a regional recall is appropriate for now, after evaluating 1,000 driver and passenger inflators from outside humid locations.

"Takata is concerned that a national recall under these circumstances could potentially divert replacement air bags from where they're needed, putting lives at risk," the company said, according to the AP.

Car owners may also run into another problem: there are a limited number of replacement parts currently. Takata is having a hard time making enough replacement air bag inflators to handle the smaller regional recalls and will likely have issues with supplying demand for a nationwide recall, according to the AP.

The company has vowed to add two production lines by 2015 in order to make more inflators.

Lawmakers will hold a hearing on Thursday to question Friedman, as well as representatives from Takata and the automakers, about their response to the air bag issue. 

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