Updated at 12:05 p.m. ET.
Federal regulators had given Takata Corp. until Tuesday to widen its recall of air bags to the entire U.S., but the Japanese company appeared to ignore that demand, causing one House lawmaker to say today that her constituents were “literally afraid to drive their cars.”
The Associated Press obtained a letter from Takata to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In it, Takata officials said that NHTSA’s demand for a nationwide recall wasn’t backed by evidence. They also said the agency lacked the authority to force a recall by a parts-maker.
A NHTSA statement cited by the AP called Takata’s response “disappointing.” Last week, the agency threatened legal action and fines if Takata didn’t expand its recall.
Some experts say Takata would do well to consider expanding its recall.
“[C]onsumer lives may be at risk,” Kaitlin Wowak, an assistant professor of management at the University of Notre Dame, said in an email to NPR. “While a nationwide recall could lead to a part shortage, it’s Takata’s responsibility to figure out how to get more replacement air bags in order to ensure consumers are driving cars with air bags that can save their lives, not take their lives.”
The problem with Takata’s air bags is that they can inflate with too much force, sending metal shrapnel through the vehicle.
As we’ve previously reported, Takata so far has issued recalls in Florida, Hawaii and along the Gulf Coast, as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands. The company says the inflator ruptures only in high-humidity parts of the country. But NHTSA had pointed to incidents in California and North Carolina.
A official from Honda, who appeared at a hearing before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Wednesday, said the automaker — one of Takata’s biggest customers — would expand its recall of driver’s side air bags nationwide. Officials from BMW, which has already issued a nationwide recall over the air bags, and Toyota were at the hearing as well.
Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Subaru also use the inflators that are the target of the recall. More than 14 million recalls have been issued worldwide, including 8 million in the U.S. A national recall, Takata says, would add 8 million vehicles to that figure.
The problem with the company’s air bag was first spotted in 2004 and has been linked to a cheaper air propellant that Takata switched to in 1998.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., the ranking Democrat on the panel, said her constituents have written to her about being “literally afraid to drive their cars.”
At a Senate hearing last month, Hiroshi Shimizu, senior vice president of quality for Takata, apologized for the at least five deaths and dozens of injuries that have been linked to the company’s air bag.