Takata Airbags in Need of Recall Cut by One-Third by Regulator

  • NHTSA says 23.4 million units involved, down from 34 million
  • Agency to hold a public hearing in fall on investigation

A third fewer Takata Corp. air bags than originally estimated need to be recalled for repair of a flaw that can turn the inflators into deadly shrapnel, U.S. regulators said in updating their investigation.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Tuesday that 23.4 million inflators are involved in recalls covering 11 different automakers, down from an initial estimate of 34 million. About 19 million vehicles are involved, and in about 4 million two air bags will need to be repaired.

The number of inflators involved in the recalls was refined after automakers took a closer look at specific models involved, NHTSA said.

The Takata inflators have been blamed for at least eight deaths and 130 injuries. About 4.4 million inflators have been replaced so far, according to an agency official who requested anonymity to brief reporters on a conference call.

The agency’s efforts to learn what causes the air-bag failures has so far confirmed Takata’s main findings -- that the defect may be related to age, prolonged exposure to high humidity and moisture altering the chemical makeup of the inflator’s ammonium nitrate propellant. Further testing will be needed to ensure that replacement air bags will permanently fix the problem, the official said.

NHTSA plans to hold a public hearing this fall to present what it knows about the cause of the failures and how it plans to proceed, the official said. The agency is coordinating recall repairs with Takata and the automakers, the first time it has invoked its authority to organize and coordinate recall repairs.

The agency is still investigating whether Takata violated the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, the official said. Violations, which usually involve excessive delays in reporting defects to regulators, would mean paying tens of millions of dollars in civil penalties. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV agreed to pay a record $105 million penalty earlier this year.

In a related investigation, the agency has confirmed that Volkswagen AG and Takata detected failures involving seat-mounted side air bags during quality-control testing. NHTSA has also learned about an overseas recall of the same part involving General Motors Co. vehicles, the official said.

NHTSA and Volkswagen announced the defect investigation Aug. 17.

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