WASHINGTON -- Automakers investigating the scope and cause of sudden ruptures in Takata airbags concluded their first meeting Thursday in metro Detroit without selecting an outside engineering firm to conduct the group’s testing.
The group’s top priority is selecting an independent engineering firm to handle the testing and analysis of Takata airbag inflators collected in recalls by the automakers involved in the effort, according to a source briefed on the meeting.
No timetable has been set to make a selection, two sources said. A third source said the group is striving to make a decision quickly, and a joint statement drafted by the group indicated that a decision would be made soon.
Representatives from Honda, Toyota, Chrysler, Ford, Nissan, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Mazda and BMW were expected at the meeting, held at a Westin hotel at Detroit Metro Airport. The gathering began around 10 a.m. ET and ran for several hours into the mid-afternoon.
“Our mutual goal is to ensure that an independent, well-qualified expert is quickly selected in order to further investigate the technical issues involved with the Takata airbags,” the group said in a joint statement. “The objective of seeking an outside expert to test these inflators is to promote the safety, security, and peace of mind for all customers. Based on the initial organizing meeting today, we feel we have positive momentum and look forward to the next steps of the process.”
Officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did not attend the meeting.
In a statement, NHTSA confirmed that it was aware of the meeting and said it “will be engaging the industry on their test plans in the near future.” It declined to elaborate, citing its ongoing investigation into Takata inflators.
Precisely how NHTSA will be involved in the industry test initiative is unclear, but the agency could be positioning itself as a fact-checker of sorts. One of the sources said the group planned to keep NHTSA informed about the tests and results as they become available.
David Friedman, NHTSA’s deputy administrator, told a House subcommittee last week that the agency planned to hire an outside expert on airbag propellant chemistry soon and was setting up new testing operations of its own to verify the results of inflator tests being conducted by automakers and Takata as part of the agency’s investigation into the defect.
NHTSA has since declined multiple requests for an update on those plans.
A Chrysler spokesman confirmed the company’s participation in the initiative, reiterating the company’s support of the group’s goals and of NHTSA’s involvement in the effort.
Toyota Motor Corp. proposed the initiative last week to pool industry resources quickly and accurately to identify Takata inflators that need to be replaced.
Automakers also are eager to find the cause behind the explosion of some Takata airbag inflators that have been linked to five deaths, scores of injures and more than 13 million recalled vehicles in the U.S. since 2008.
Globally, including 550,000 more vehicles recalled today overseas, the auto industry has recalled nearly 20 million vehicles because of potentially lethal Takata airbags since 2008, according to Reuters estimates.