WASHINGTON: Japan’s Takata said it would redesign some driver-side airbag inflators, in the latest chapter of a global auto parts scandal linked to six deaths and the recall of millions of vehicles.
In prepared testimony to be delivered to the US Congress on Tuesday, Kevin Kennedy, executive vice president at Takata’s American arm TK Holdings, said the company is pushing ahead to replace faulty airbag inflators, after US auto safety regulators ordered the recall of nearly 34 million vehicles.
Six deaths have been tied to shrapnel from the explosive airbags.
Kennedy said “most” injuries and all the fatalities have involved an older version of its driver airbag inflator and that the firm was working on replacing the part.
“Takata has… committed to cease producing these types of driver inflators,” he said.
“And we are working with our automaker partners to transition to newer versions of driver inflators in our replacement kits, or inflators made by other suppliers that do not contain ammonium nitrate propellant.”
Takata has acknowledged that high humidity can affect the chemical agent “in certain circumstances”, which can result in airbags deploying with excessive explosive force — sending dangerous shrapnel into people the airbags are intended to protect.
It added that other factors, including manufacturing, could also be involved. But the company said it would continue using ammonium nitrate.
“We are going to continue using ammonium nitrate, while we will change the design of the driver-side air bag inflators,” a Tokyo-based company spokesman told AFP.
“We have received questions from the media about some confusion in (Kennedy’s) statement, but we have no plan to change the chemical,” he added.
Last month, Takata admitted for the first time that its airbags installed in the cars of 11 major automakers worldwide are defective.
It agreed with the US Department of Transportation to replace airbags or airbag inflators in all cars and trucks in the US equipped with them, in what will amount to the largest-ever vehicle recall.
Recalls will focus first on cars in Hawaii and southern states, where the climate could be exacerbating the problem.
Kennedy stressed that the company believed the new replacement inflators, being manufactured by Takata as well as other suppliers, are fully safe.
“I want to emphasize that we have confidence in the inflators we are producing today… We believe that, properly manufactured and installed, these inflators will work as designed to save lives.”