Takata Expresses 'Regret' on Capitol Hill Over Airbag Recall

The company behind the largest auto recall in U.S. history faced lawmakers.

ByABC News
June 2, 2015, 6:32 PM

— -- Takata Corp. got an earful today on Capitol Hill, as the Japanese company behind the biggest auto recall in U.S. history told a congressional committee that many of the cars that had already had defective airbags replaced would now need a newer one.

"We deeply regret each instance in which someone has been injured or killed," Kevin Kennedy, the executive vice president of North America Takata, told a House Commerce and Energy subcommittee today. "We are committed to doing everything in our power to address the safety concerns raised by airbag ruptures."

The company also admitted that it had been manufacturing potentially defective airbags.

Kennedy noted in his testimony that Takata had upped production of replacement airbag kits in recent months and expected to produce 1 million per month by September.

However, when asked whether some of the replacement kits were any different than those that may have included equipment deemed defective, Kennedy said it would depend on the vehicle and manufacturer. He said it was still unclear how many drivers would be called in to receive their second replacement, but that Takata would be working with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to track them down and they would be in the final phase of replacements as they are considered at lower risk.

Takata's airbags have been at the center of controversy with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the NHTSA after the company's airbags were linked to at least six deaths worldwide, and more than 100 injuries, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Takata found that one out of 160 recalled bag inflators ruptured during testing, sending shrapnel flying, according to a source familiar with the company's ongoing testing.

In May, the company doubled its recall, affecting nearly 34 million inflators -- one in seven registered vehicles in the U.S.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Michigan, said he'd gotten into an accident during the Memorial Day weekend and his airbag had deployed. Upton was not injured.

"I remember thinking, 'I'm very lucky I didn't have a defective Takata air bag,'" he said today. "And then I thought, 'The safety of your air bag can't be a game of luck.'"

Takata, which provides nearly 20 percent of airbags worldwide, reiterated its plan today to stop making airbags with defective inflators.

The recall is not only massive but complex. Automakers are still trying to figure out which cars are affected by the expanded recall. And for some consumers who already know their car has one of the 34 million inflators, supply has not caught up with demand, leading to delays and fear.

Experts advised consumers not to inspect airbags on their own and not to disable them because they are complex and contain explosive chemicals, so there is some risk. Consumers should locate their vehicle identification number, which can be found on the driver's side where the dashboard meets the windshield or on the driver's side door post, and then enter it at www.safercar.gov. Without the VIN, consumers cannot find out whether their car is part of the new recall.

Experts recommend checking for the next two weeks because all of the automakers are expected to have submitted their data by then.

"This may be the largest, most complicated consumer safety recall in our nation’s history," NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said to the committee today.

As for penalties Takata might face, Rosekind acknowledged the NHTSA is currently focusing on ensuring the safety of drivers still with defective airbags, but didn’t rule out civil penalties as its investigation continues.

ABC News' Alexander Mallin contributed to this report.