Under pressure from federal regulators, airbag manufacturer Takata Corp. has asked rival suppliers if they can help produce replacement inflators for the company’s customers.
But testing requirements mean that asking for help can’t make up for a shortage of parts overnight.
In an emailed statement, a Takata spokesman said the Japanese supplier “is looking at several other options” in addition to expanded production at its own plants.
One alternative is to outsource production to rival suppliers. TRW Automotive Inc., of suburban Detroit, the industry’s third-largest producer of inflators, has confirmed that it has been approached by Takata.
“We have received an inquiry, in fact, directly from our competitor to see whether we would be prepared to supply them” with inflators, TRW CEO John Plant said during a quarterly earnings conference call. “Of course, we are willing to do that to help them.”
Likewise, Autoliv Inc. CEO Jan Carlson hinted that the company might also produce some extra inflators. “We have seen some business coming our way as a result out of this situation,” Carlson said during an earnings conference call.
But it’s not clear as yet how much spare capacity Autoliv, of Stockholm, has to offer.
“We are evaluating our capacity to determine how we can best support our customers and consumers,” an Autoliv spokesman said in an email to Automotive News.
Honda Motor Co., Takata’s largest customer, already has moved some inflator business to Daicel Corp., of Osaka, the No. 4 global producer of inflators, Reuters reported.
Takata is under the gun because its plant in Monclova, Mexico, can’t keep up with demand for replacement inflators.
In a Sept. 16 report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Takata said it expects to produce 1.47 million inflators through February. In contrast, NHTSA lists 7.8 million vehicles made by at least 11 automakers as potentially subject to recall. And that doesn’t count vehicles recalled in Japan and other countries.
In an emailed response to Automotive News, a Honda spokesman said the automaker’s “regional safety improvement campaigns” in 11 U.S. states and territories will include 2.8 million vehicles.
But he noted that the stock of replacement inflators will be sufficient to repair vehicles in four states and territories that share hot, humid climates — NHTSA’s top-priority recall region.
“At the typical customer response rate, we should be able to satisfy parts demand into the foreseeable future,” the spokesman said. “We are working to procure parts for the remaining vehicles” outside that region.
In an Oct. 29 letter to Takata, David Friedman, NHTSA’s deputy administrator, instructed the company to “do all that is possible” to replace defective airbag inflators “quickly and responsibly.” He also instructed Takata to detail “the contributions that other inflator manufacturers can make to providing replacement parts.”
But if other suppliers produce inflators, the automakers will have to test them to make sure they work properly. One industry source with knowledge of the issue said every vehicle model has its own crash characteristics, so testing other suppliers’ inflators “may take some months.”