Takata—the bankrupt airbag supplier responsible for the world’s largest auto-related recall ever—is throwing another 10 million defective devices into the mess.
With any luck, this will finally mark the end 12 years of recall campaigns involving 19 carmakers and 90 million devices in the U.S. alone.
Or maybe not. Takata and its customers continue to struggle over exactly how many flawed inflators ended up in which airbag systems in which cars, and when. Takata admits it’s guessing that the latest recall involves 10 million devices.
Play It Again, Sam
This sorry saga began a dozen years ago. That’s when it began to dawn on carmakers that some of Takata’s inflators were misfiring.
The devices ignite a propellant that fills an airbag in a split second during a crash. But sometimes Takata inflators exploded instead, spraying metal shrapnel directly at people sitting in the front seats. At least two dozen deaths and hundreds of serious injuries have resulted from misfiring Takata inflators.
The most likely Takata devices to fail are ones that have been exposed for long periods to hot and humid conditions. But not always. And none of this was apparent at first.
U.S. safety regulators were slow to recognize the scope of the problem. One reason: Takata lied to regulators about the scope and cause of the problem (in 2017 the company paid $1 billion to settle U.S. criminal charges about the coverup).
The Supply Problem
But there was no quick fix, even when the crisis became clear. On the contrary. The flood of recalls quickly overwhelmed the airbag industry’s ability to respond with enough safer replacement parts.
Rather than wait for those supplies to build, many carmakers opted for a temporary alternative. They began replacing the aging Takata inflators with newly made versions of the same devices, complete with the same unstable propellant.
The idea was to later replace those interim devices with permanent alternatives. Carmakers have been doing just that for some time.
Over at Last?
Today’s Takata recall aims to clean up the final 10 million of these temporary repairs. It won’t be easy. The remaining interim devices are spread over a broad range of U.S. models made by 14 car companies. But this time, at least we know what we’re looking for. Or do we?
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