It will take months to come up with a plan to fix 34 million vehicles with defective Takata air bags and then potentially years to complete the massive recall. That’s the word from the top chief at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, who along with a Takata executive, answered questions at a Congressional hearing Tuesday.
NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind says the agency hopes to have a plan in place to complete the largest auto recall in U.S. history by the fall, but “at this point, if anybody gave you a (timeframe), they don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said.
“The messaging around these airbag recalls has been tortured at best,” Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, told Rosekind. “We need more information, and clearer information for consumers,” he said.
Members of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee also grilled Takata vice president Kevin Kennedy who told lawmakers the manufacturer continues to use the chemical ammonium nitrate in air bags being sold in new cars today. It’s the same chemical linked to the current exploding airbag problem now linked to six deaths and more than 100 injuries worldwide.
“Can you guarantee that as long as ammonium nitrate is used in those products that the products are safe?” asked Joseph P. Kennedy III, Democrat of Massachusetts.
“We believe that when properly manufactured and designed, ammonium nitrate — phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate — can be done properly,” Mr. Kennedy of Takata said. The company’s made some some changes to the formula hoping to stabilize the propellant. One ingredient is desiccant, a substance that helps absorb humidity that can break down over time. Experts say it could be also be a possible cause of the explosions because it can break down over time.
What’s more, Takata says many of the bags already replaced once, may need to be replaced a second time. Lawmakers weren’t happy about this one either.
“You replaced them with things that are still faulty? There’s no excuse for that,” Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma) Mullin said. “A screw-up is a screw-up, but take the blame. Who’s going to be responsible for this? You don’t know? What do you mean you don’t know? I just wonder, I’m sitting here maybe thinking we haven’t been moving very fast because you haven’t took ownership of it. At the same time, we have no telling how many vehicles are out there, with more young ladies or young men, who are going to bear the scars again.”
Takata’s competitors use different compounds as their primary propellant, and many are supplying the replacement airbags.
The problem with Takata air bags, which can violently explode when deployed and spray shrapnel into cars, dates back to 2004. However, it is only recently part of any recall action and experts have yet to pinpoint an exact cause.
The NHTSA says car owners should check the recall website weekly to enter their VIN number as automakers are still identifying vehicles.