WASHINGTON -- Toyota Motor Corp., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Volkswagen AG and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. are still selling new vehicles in the U.S. with defective airbags that will eventually have to be recalled, the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee said in a report today.
The report said the automakers confirmed they are continuing to sell some vehicles with ammonium-nitrate inflators without a drying agent. The vehicles are legal to sell but must be recalled by 2018, the report said.
The report by the top Democrat on the committee that oversees the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the latest to raise concerns about what has grown into the largest ever auto safety recall in history -- now close to 70 million airbag inflators.
NHTSA has taken control of the massive recall, using legal authority to do so for the first time -- and last year appointed a former federal prosecutor to oversee the effort.
"What's troubling here is that consumers are buying new cars not realizing they're going to be recalled," U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and the report's author, said in a statement. "These cars shouldn't be sold until they're fixed."
Takata inflators can explode with excessive force and spray metal shrapnel into vehicle passenger compartments. They are suspected in 13 deaths worldwide and more than 100 injuries.
There is no required public disclosure of all new vehicles that have airbag inflators that will need to be recalled. Automakers may not disclose all new vehicles being recalled until 2019.
"Until that time, it's impossible for consumers to find out if their vehicle has a defective airbag which will need to be replaced," said Rich Newsome, an Orlando, Fla., lawyer who represents people who have sued Takata.
More to come
Ford Motor Co. announced today it is expanding its Takata airbag recalls by nearly 1.9 million vehicles -- and more recalls are expected later this week.
Last month, Takata agreed to declare as defective another 35 million to 40 million U.S. inflators that don't have drying agents in frontal airbags. Last week, eight automakers announced recalls of more than 12 million vehicles as a result.
Previously, automakers recalled inflators in 24 million vehicles.
The issue is that the vehicles don't become dangerous until long-term exposure to high humidity, so in the short term are safe to drive -- and much safer than the older models on the roads, according to NHTSA.
The agency has said that because of the massive number of airbags already under recall it needs to prioritize the oldest ones in high-humidity areas.
The vehicles being sold that will later need to be recalled include the 2016-2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV, 2016 Volkswagen CC, 2016 Audi TT and 2017 Audi R8.
The report said Toyota, one of two automakers that did not provide specific years and models, expects to produce about 175,000 vehicles with the defective Takata inflators between March 2016 and July 2017.
Fiat Chrysler told the committee that at least one of its current models contains a frontal passenger-side airbag that uses the ammonium-nitrate inflators without a desiccant or drying agent.
Fiat Chrysler said today that no vehicle being sold is under recall and it is moving on an accelerated timetable, "having included an additional one million vehicles in the most recent recall expansion."
Honda Motor Co., which has recalled 10.2 million vehicles in the U.S. for Takata inflators including some more than once, told the committee that 17,000 new vehicles are equipped with inflators without drying agents.
Honda recently told committee staff that no new vehicles will be equipped with such inflators.
The report also said more than 2.1 million ammonium-nitrate replacement inflators without drying agents have been installed in U.S. vehicles as of March -- and will eventually need to be replaced. Dealers have at least 580,000 inflators without the drying agent in stock to install in recalled vehicles, the report said.