Takata Air-Bag Recall Expanded as 10th Death Reported

  • NHTSA announces another 5 million inflators need repair
  • Death in Ford Motor Co. Ranger pickup is ninth in U.S.

Millions more vehicles are being recalled to replace defective Takata Corp. air bags as another death was linked to the devices that have been found to spray metal pieces into vehicles, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.

Two recalls announced Friday cover 5 million air bag inflators in cars made by Ford, Volkswagen AG, Honda Motor Co., Daimler AG, Audi AG, Mazda Motor Corp., Saab AB and BMW AG. NHTSA has been coordinating the largest-ever U.S. automotive action, which previously covered 23 million inflators in 19 million vehicles with Takata air bags.

The agency couldn’t immediately say how many additional vehicles would be recalled because some vehicles have multiple inflators and some may have been previously recalled. Owners can check on their vehicles at safercar.gov.

The driver of a 2006 Ford Motor Co. Ranger pickup died in December after the truck swerved off a road in South Carolina and hit an obstruction, the agency said in a call with reporters Friday. Agency investigators said that the Takata air-bag exploded, and the coroner had previously determined the rupture contributed to the death, NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said.

In addition to the 10 fatalities, nine of them in the U.S., about 100 people have been injured by Takata air bags.

Safety ‘Crisis’

“This is a massive safety crisis,” Trowbridge said.

Ford said it has “very limited information” about the latest incident and is working with NHTSA to review the circumstances of the South Carolina death.

“We are saddened to hear about the driver’s death and offer our sincere condolences to the family of the driver,” Ford spokesman John Cavangany said in an e-mail. “We are working with the agency to review the available information, but we have very limited information at this point. If we find an issue with our vehicles, we take prompt action to address customer safety.”

Takata said it’s continuing to conduct tests and ramp up replacement kit production, and trying to raise consumer awareness of recalled vehicles.

The Japanese company also is in talks with rival air-bag maker Daicel Corp. on what a Daicel spokesman, Masahiko Hirokawa, described as “ways to ensure stable supply” of inflators. No decision has been made about whether they will invest in a production joint venture, Hirokawa said. The proposed tie-up was earlier reported by the Nikkei newspaper.

The Nikkei also reported that Takata will separately seek aid from carmakers as recall costs mount, including getting them to cover some costs and easing pressure for discounts on parts.

“Our heartfelt condolences go out to the driver’s family,” said Robert Rendine, a U.S. spokesman for the Tokyo-based parts supplier. “We are cooperating fully with regulators and our automotive customers and continue to support all actions that advance vehicle safety.”

One of the two recalls NHTSA is ordering -- to replace driver’s side air bags with similar inflators to the one involved in the latest fatal crash -- involves vehicles made by Ford, Mazda, Audi, VW, Daimler and Saab, the agency said. Approximately 1 million inflators are included in the action.

The inflator had been involved in previous testing without experiencing a rupture, Trowbridge said. The agency isn’t sure why the pickup’s air bag exploded. The fatality means there’s a higher risk, meaning the agency “believes it’s appropriate to take aggressive action,” he said.

Second Recall

The second recall announced Friday, involving approximately 4 million inflators, involves vehicles made by Volkswagen, BMW, Honda and Mercedes-Benz, NHTSA said. This recall comes after testing on some similar inflators in already-recalled Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles showed additional ruptures.

The agency has said it will take years to complete all of the recalls, and it is prioritizing repairs in areas with high humidity levels, like the states around the Gulf of Mexico and Puerto Rico. Older vehicles and those needing new drivers-side air bags are also higher risk, Trowbridge said.

“The agency is using all the tools available to clean this mess up as quickly as possible,” Trowbridge said.

In November, Takata was fined a record $200 million over its missteps in handling the air-bag crisis. NHTSA found that Takata had been slow to report the defect and hid critical information from regulators and its automaker partners. Takata agreed to appoint an independent monitor to oversee its recalls and operate under the terms of a five-year consent decree.

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