Embattled airbag maker Takata is moving away from a potentially dangerous chemical propellant, although it won’t be phased out entirely.
Ammonium nitrate airbag inflators will be used less by Takata in favor of guanidine nitrate inflators, a propellant used by many competing suppliers. “I think overall you will see our production of ammonium nitrate go down rapidly,” said Kevin Kennedy, executive vice president of Takata’s North American affiliate.
Ammonium nitrate is in part being blamed for the company’s defective airbags as it is vulnerable to heat and moisture. In older cars, the ammonium nitrate ignites with too much force, causing the metal canister it’s in to explode, hurling shrapnel at the car’s occupants. This issue has been blamed for six deaths, over 100 injuries and has sparked a nationwide recall for roughly 34 million vehicles that will take years to complete.
Although the company is moving away from ammonium nitrate, it will not stop using the potentially dangerous propellant altogether. Kennedy defended the company’s use of the ammonium nitrate inflators to a House of Representatives subcommittee, saying that when properly manufactured they are safe.
He went on to admit that there are still a few families of inflators that do not use a desiccant, an additive that absorbs moisture to increase the time an inflator is still useful. Kennedy also said that some replacement inflators had been supplied that also did not have a desiccant, which means they may be just as dangerous as the original inflator. These replacement inflators will also likely need to be eventually replaced.
This is the first time a Takata representative has admitted that ammonium nitrate is part of the issue publicly.
“Takata continues to use phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate in our propellant, which is safe and effective for use in airbag inflators when properly engineered and manufactured. We are confident that our replacement airbags are safe,” the company said in a statement.
Investigators have still not identified the root problem of the explosions, outside of knowing heat and moisture are definitely a factor.
NHTSA is urging car owners to run their VIN through its recall database every week, to make sure their vehicle is not affected.
[Source: Automotive News]