NHTSA orders Takata to undertake national airbag recall

Supplier could face civil fines of $7,000 a day

UPDATED: 11/26/14 1:51 pm ET - adds details

WASHINGTON -- U.S. regulators formally demanded Takata Corp. take part in a nationwide recall of defective airbags, saying the company's piecemeal approach to fixing a potentially deadly flaw in millions of cars is insufficient.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told Takata in a letter today to file a report by Dec. 2 that identifies a defect in "driver's side airbag inflators and is nationwide in scope."

Failure to do so may lead NHTSA to force a recall and issue civil fines of $7,000 per violation.

NHTSA has already urged automakers to treat the airbag issue as a defect worthy of a national recall, citing incidents that took place outside the high-humidity states targeted in initial recall campaigns.

Today’s order, coming a week before a second congressional hearing into the issue, effectively seeks to compel Takata to do the same, and to take more aggressive steps to ensure a supply of replacement parts sufficient to meet national demand.

The company last week had pushed back against calls by NHTSA to expand regional repair campaigns that primarily focused on 8 million cars in high-humidity U.S. states.

Takata said recalling vehicles in other areas, where the risk of airbag malfunctions is lower, would aggravate a shortage of replacement parts and slow repairs.

"Takata has provided no justification for limiting the geographic scope to the high absolute humidity region," the head of NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation, Frank Borris, said in the letter.

NHTSA has been investigating Takata airbag inflators that may malfunction if exposed to consistently high humidity.

The agency has said the condition might cause the devices to deploy with too much force, break apart metal pieces and strike passengers. The air bags are linked to at least four deaths in Honda Motor Co. vehicles in the U.S. and another in Malaysia.

Chrysler letter

Honda, Takata's biggest customer, is one of 10 automakers involved in the U.S. recalls. In a letter Tuesday, NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman chided Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to begin a nationwide recall by Dec. 1, almost three weeks earlier than the company had planned.

Chrysler had made the decision to replace the airbag inflators in 371,000 vehicles in June, though it didn't plan to notify consumers until Dec. 19, when replacement parts are available, its senior vice president and head of vehicle safety and regulatory compliance, Scott Kunselman, testified at a Senate hearing last week.

Takata has already been struggling to ramp up production under the regional recalls. Takata's executive in charge of global quality assurance, Hiroshi Shimizu, said at the same hearing that Takata is producing more than 300,000 kits a month and will increase to as many as 450,000 in January.

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