Takata has admitted that its airbag inflators are defective, resulting in a massive recall of 33.8 million vehicles in the U.S.
“Takata has agreed to confirm that Takata airbag inflators are defective,” said Anthony Foxx, the U.S. transportation sectary. “It is fair to say this is the most complex consumer recall in U.S. history.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been pushing Takata to declare these vehicles defective since November and even implemented a $14,000 a day fine against the company in February for not cooperating with investigators. The fine has been suspended as Takata signed a Consent Order today which requires the company to cooperate fully with all regulatory actions that NHTSA undertakes as part of its investigation.
So far, the Takata airbag recall has affected about 17 million vehicles in the U.S., which means today’s announcement roughly doubles the size of the recall.
Faulty Takata airbag inflators are linked to six deaths and more than 100 injuries, as they can rupture, causing metal shrapnel to be hurled at the occupants of the vehicle. The Japanese supplier has not pinpointed the root cause of the defect yet, simply saying that the propellant can degrade over time, increasing the risk of a rupture. Outside investigations point to moisture slowly seeping into the inflator, causing the chemical structure of the propellant to change. So far, areas with high humidity have been prioritized, but today’s announcement affects vehicles all over the country.
NHTSA will now oversee the replacement of the faulty inflators and has already begun a formal legal process to get the process going. The replacement inflators will be tested by NHTSA to ensure they are safe, while the replacement process will prioritize vehicle repair based on highest risk in terms of vehicle age and geographic location.
No more fines were announced by NHTSA today, but the current investigation may result in more penalties against Takata.
More details on the affected vehicles are expected to be released by individual automakers in the coming days.