According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Fraunhofer ICT, the German research institute in charge of investigating the monumental Takata airbag recall, has discovered at least four contributing factors to the fatal airbag detonations. At least six deaths have been linked to the Takata airbag recall thus far.
All four factors resulted in the passage of moisture into the airbag inflator, ruining the propellants responsible for deploying the airbag in the event of a collision. The following points are what the German experts believe actively contribute to the Takata exploding airbags:
- Variations in inflator production;
- Incompetent inflator machinery, such as the O-ring used to seal and protect the inflator from moisture;
- Extended exposure to hot, humid climates;
- Positioning of the airbag and inflator system within the vehicle.
The issues were outlined in a confidential report sent to those investigating the Takata airbag recall, including safety regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and automakers. Although Fraunhofer’s findings have given everyone involved insight as to what is occurring in the impacted vehicles, the problem’s complexity challenges investigators, considering there have only been a handful of airbag explosions reported as compared to the millions of vehicles recalled.
“I know there may not be a single root cause, and we may in fact never know the root cause,” said NHTSA head Mark Rosekind in remarks prepared for testimony before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday.
Hot, humid climates continue to take the brunt of the blame in the Takata airbag recall; however, the O-rings are what Fraunhofer believes to be ultimately responsible for allowing the moisture into the sensitive inflator components.
“Currently, the work suggests that the period of product use as well as continuous exposure to climate of persistent heat and high humidity are factors with impact, but we believe we need to continue studying other factors,” said Takata spokesman Hideyuki Matsumoto.
Takata announced last month that although it plans to discontinue its production of a certain driver’s side inflator, the propellant itself will remain unchanged. According to Robert Rendine with Sard Verbinnen & Co., responsible for handling Takata’s media inquiries, the propellant “is safe and effective for use in air-bag inflaters when properly engineered and manufactured.”
In order to prevent moisture from affecting the replacement airbag inflators, Takata’s newest version will include desiccants responsible for ensuring no moisture can penetrate the airbag’s inflation system.