NHTSA slams low Takata airbag recall rate by automakers, asks for meetings

Heidi King: "I am deeply concerned that, despite this progress, millions more vehicles with defective Takata airbag inflators remain on the roads." Photo credit: Courtesy of the Energy and Commerce Committee

UPDATED: 5/14/18 3:38 pm ET - adds details

WASHINGTON -- U.S. auto safety regulators are raising pressure on a dozen vehicle manufacturers that failed to meet a December deadline to replace millions of defective Takata airbag inflators that could explode in a crash.

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration order issued in 2015 scheduling the unprecedented safety campaign set a target for carmakers to repair nearly 20 million of the defective parts by the end of 2017. More than 7 million of the defective inflators remained unrepaired after that deadline, according to the agency. 

So far, 42 percent of recalled repairs haven’t been completed.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King sent a letter May 3 to the companies asking them to set meetings to discuss plans to speed the pace of repairs. The letter was released Monday.

“I am deeply concerned that, despite this progress, millions more vehicles with defective Takata airbag inflators remain on the roads," King wrote. "We look forward to hearing your plans to complete the remedy program for these highest priority vehicles and your proposed timeline for doing so.”

Letters were sent to BMW AG, Daimler Vans, Daimler Trucks North America, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Honda Motor Co., Mazda Motor Corp., Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Nissan Motor Corp., Subaru, and Toyota Motor Corp.

At least 22 deaths and more than 290 injuries worldwide are linked to Takata inflators that can explode, unleashing metal shrapnel inside cars and trucks. The defect led Takata to file for bankruptcy protection in June 2017.

A trade group representing major automakers did not immediately comment on the NHTSA request to meet with company representatives.

NHTSA has been criticized by some Democratic lawmakers for not doing more to prod automakers to fix vehicles faster. A U.S. Senate hearing in March also looked at the issue.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, the top Democrat on the Commerce Committee, said last week he wants King to work to speed up efforts to get Takata airbags replaced. Of the 22 deaths worldwide, 15 are in the United States. In total, 20 deaths have been reported in Honda vehicle and two in Ford pickup trucks.

"These numbers show that we still have a huge problem with getting these dangerous airbags replaced and off our highways,” Nelson said.

Takata pleaded guilty in 2017 to a single felony count of wire fraud to resolve a U.S. Justice Department investigation and agreed to a $1 billion settlement. The company is under the oversight of an independent monitor for three years. Chinese-owned Key Safety Systems completed its $1.6 billion acquisition of Takata's assets in April.  

Reuters and Automotive News contributed to this report.

You can reach Ryan Beene at autonews@crain.com

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