The National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA) ordered Japanese automotive supplier Takata Corp. to hand over internal documents by December 1 and answer questions under oath about the defective airbags it made for installation in millions of vehicles.
Takata’s airbags, which 10 auto manufacturers have installed in more than 17 million vehicles worldwide, are prone to deploy with excessive force, blasting metal fragments into the car’s interior. The defective devices have been linked to at least four deaths and several injuries.
NHTSA regulators have been investigating Takata’s defective airbags since June, focusing on the inflator mechanisms in airbags made from 2000 to 2007 to determine whether they are properly sealed and prone to malfunction in areas of high humidity.
Concern over Takata airbags has led to the recall of more than 10 million cars in the U.S., but only in areas such as Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Gulf Coast, where moisture in the air is generally high.
NHTSA has been under fire from lawmakers and other critics who question why the agency hasn’t mandated a recall on all of the vehicles affected by the potentially explosive airbags when cases of the devices malfunctioning have been documented in other regions of the country.
On Oct. 22, NHTSA finally took the rare action of urging drivers of certain Toyota, Honda, Mazda, BMW, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors vehicles to act immediately on recall notices to replace defective Takata airbags.
NHTSA issued the warning for all vehicles containing the defective airbags, but said the alert had a special urgency for drivers in Florida, Puerto Rico, the Texas Gulf Coast, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, Virgin Islands, and Hawaii.
In its special order to Takata and its American unit TK Holdings Inc., NHTSA ordered the supplier to submit all airbag-related communications between itself, its competitors, and the automakers it supplied, and other relevant documents.
NHTSA also ordered the Takata companies to hand over documents pertaining to problems with the airbag inflators stemming from its production facilities in Mexico, including documents cited by Reuters that include an email from plant supervisor Guillermo Apud with the subject “Defectos y defectos y defectos!!!!” (“defects and defects and defects!!!!), in which Mr. Apud says, “A part that is not welded = one life less, which shows we are not fulfilling the mission.”
In the email, Mr. Apud described finding chewing gum in the inflator of one airbag during inspection.
Takata said that it “is cooperating fully with NHTSA and is working to meet their requests.”