Honda looks like sealing Takata’s fate


With the ongoing saga of exploding Takata air bags, to add to Takata’s problems, Honda Motor Co. said it will expand a nationwide recall of driver-side air bags that will add another 3.2 million vehicles to the callback.

Honda has confirmed the number. In total, 10 automakers have now recalled nearly 11 million vehicles since 2013 for air bags that may rupture.

Inflators in the Takata bags can explode and shoot metal shrapnel at drivers and passengers. At least four people in Hondas have been killed and 30 injured in the U.S., mostly in high-humidity areas such as Florida.

Honda said this week it would work with two other major suppliers – Autoliv and Daicel – to ramp up production to meet growing demand for replacement parts.

“Why are we doing this? Because our customers have concerns and we want to address them,” Rick Schostek, an executive vice president at Honda North America, told an American House subcommittee.

The big expansion raises questions about how long it will take Honda and other automakers to receive enough parts to fix all of the vehicles.

Defiant Takata Corp. refused to extend a recall of driver-side air bags, despite a demand by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Most recalls have been regional to date, limited to hot and humid places such as Florida and Hawaii, where most of the exploding air bags have been reported. Hiroshi Shimizu, Takata’s senior vice president of global quality assurance, told the House subcommittee the scientific evidence “doesn’t support a change from regional recall to national recall.”

He admitted the company still does not know the root cause of the problems but believes they are linked to long-term exposure to high humidity. NHTSA and automakers still don’t know if the replacement air bags could develop the same problem in five or 10 years – or if the chemical propellant used by Takata is part of the problem.

Last week, NHTSA formally demanded Takata declare that millions of vehicles sold with driver-side air bags nationwide are defective, the first step toward forcing the company to recall the vehicles. NHTSA has not sought a nationwide recall of passenger-side air bags.

Because Takata refused, the next step will be for NHTSA to demand a recall and to schedule a public hearing in which it could hear graphic testimony from people who have been injured. If Takata refuses after the hearing, the agency would have to go to court to enforce the recall demand.

Takata has estimated it could take at least a year or two to produce enough replacement parts even as it ramps up production from 300,000 per month to 450,000 in January.

Jan Carlson, CEO of Autoliv, which is working with Honda to produce replacement, said it would take six months to begin making deliveries of replacements.

“With quality as our first priority, we are assessing the current and upcoming market needs in order to match our delivery capabilities,” said the Swedish auto supplier CEO.

I believe that Takata could very well go to the wall over this unless the cause can be found very soon.