Takata Corp. Declares Nearly 34 Million Airbags Defective, Agrees to Recall

It is the largest recall of a consumer product in U.S. history

ByABC News
May 19, 2015, 4:56 PM

— -- Takata Corporation, a leading global supplier of automotive systems, announced today that an estimated 33.8 million cars will be recalled due to defective airbags manufactured by a Takata subsidiary.

This is the largest recall of a consumer product in U.S. history, followed by the 1982 Tylenol recall of 31 million bottles of the pain reliever after a poisoning scare.

Takata's airbags have been at the center of controversy with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) after the company's airbags were linked to at least five deaths, and more than 100 injuries, according to DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Takata has dodged liability of these claims until now. The admission that the airbags were defective is a big win for NHTSA, which has been pursuing the company and demanding it take responsibility since November.

"We are pleased to have reached this agreement with NHTSA, which presents a clear path forward to advancing safety and restoring the trust of automakers and the driving public," Shigehisa Takada, chairman and CEO of Takata Corporation, said in a statement today.

When an airbag deploys with too much force, it can propel potentially hazardous debris -- the reason linked to Takata's recall. Officials said they believe the problem is directly related to airbags having too much exposure to high humidity and moisture, though Takata has not identified the core cause of the defect, Foxx said.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind praised Takata for taking responsibility and said that the company is “taking a significant step forward.”

Rosekind also said motorists should continue driving their cars, but also look online to see if a car's VIN number falls under the recall list. If it does, an individual must immediately take their car to their original dealership to get a replacement airbag. They can check their car's VIN online at www.safercar.gov.

However, while officials believe Takata’s remedy airbags are “safer,” they aren't sure they are safe enough for the long-haul, Rosekind said, noting that NHTSA will begin working with Takata to test the new airbags. He also said that some car owners may have to go back to have a second airbag replaced, should the new one not be up to par.

The scope of the problem is “not only large, but also very complex, and NHTSA will do its best to provide clarity to consumers," Rosekind added.

Takata said in March it had boosted production of 450,000 replacement kits per month, up from 350,000 in December, and expects to be producing approximately 900,000 kits per month by September. Takata said it is “confident that newer inflators and those not exposed to prolonged humidity and heat are safe.” Takata said it is also working with other suppliers to further increase the availability of replacement kits for its automotive customers.

Eleven automakers have been affected by the defective products and are expected to release recalls to their customers, and also more information on how many of their cars have been affected.

In April, NHTSA estimated that 12 million vehicles may be affected by potentially defective Takata airbags, and levied about $14,000 a day in civil penalties against Takata for failing to respond to requests for information.

To date, the penalties have accumulated to over $1 million, Rosekind said, but those penalties have been temporarily suspended until they know what the plan is going forward.

Everyone’s ultimate goal is to make sure “that every American gets a safer airbag as soon as possible," Rosekind said.