After reports this week of a ruptured Takata airbag in a Volkswagen vehicle, two U.S. senators called on Japanese airbag manufacturer Takata Corp. to immediately recall all vehicles containing the company’s airbags.
U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., said their move was prompted by an incident in June, in which a Takata airbag inflator in a 2015 VW Tiguan ruptured after a collision, and which did not fit the pattern behind the known Takata ruptures that to date have been linked to eight deaths and more than 100 injuries.
Expanding the recalls to all vehicles containing Takata airbags would add exponentially to the 32 million U.S. vehicles that regulators say are currently affected by the callbacks. It would also amplify the challenge of securing enough replacement parts for repairs. Volkswagen vehicles have not been included in the recalls so far.
In the incident, the Tiguan’s Takata-made side airbag inflator ruptured after the crossover hit a deer. The side airbag was the vehicle’s only airbag that deployed, the driver did not seek medical assistance and no police report was filed about the incident, according to a VW spokesman.
The incident differs from the string of Takata inflator ruptures that prompted a massive recall campaign, which have involved frontal passenger- and driver-side airbags, not side airbags, and mostly occurred in vehicles that have been on the road for a decade or more.
The Tiguan’s rupture occurred in Missouri, a state outside the region of states lining the Gulf of Mexico and territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam where most of the ruptures have occurred. Takata believes that prolonged exposure to persistently hot, humid climates is the leading factor that increases the risk that an inflator will rupture in a crash.
The Tiguan rupture is being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as part of its ongoing probe into defective Takata airbags.
In a statement, a Takata spokesman said the company is cooperating with VW and NHTSA while investigating the cause of the Tiguan’s inflator rupture. The spokesman also said Takata believed the incident is unrelated to the previous airbag inflator recalls.
“Driver safety is our top priority, and we have dedicated tremendous resources to testing and researching returned inflators, including retaining leading experts around the world,” the spokesman said. “We continue to share testing data with NHTSA and vehicle manufacturers.”
In a letter to Kevin Kennedy, Takata’s executive vice president for North America, Blumenthal and Markey said the circumstances surrounding the rupture in the Tiguan “directly undercuts Takata’s continued insistence — despite growing evidence to the contrary — that the flaws in its airbag inflators are limited to prior designs in older model cars and only present when the airbags have prolonged exposure to extremely humid conditions.”
The senators also expressed “deep concern over the obfuscation and delay” by Takata amid its search for a root cause of the defect.
The two are among the most vocal Takata critics on Capitol Hill. The two grilled Kennedy during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in June, in which Blumenthal told Kennedy that Takata should establish a compensation fund for victims who have been injured or killed by ruptured airbags. Takata declined to do so.