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Airbag Recall: Senators Press for Recall of Millions of Auto Airbags

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VW Vehicles Investigated as NHTSA Widens Takata Airbag Malfunction Probe

There may be more cars affected by the Takata airbag recall.  A ruptured side airbag in a 2015 Volkswagen SUV during an accident in June has spurred two US Senators to call upon Takata to expand a massive existing recall of vehicles installed with its airbags.
Volkswagen is the latest carmaker to come under scrutiny for airbag safety. VW reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) an incident involving one of its 2015 Tiguan SUVs this June, in which a Takata-made side curtain airbag ruptured during an accident involving a deer.  No one was injured.
At present, Takata is involved in a massive recall affecting over 30 million vehicles from 11 automobile manufacturers (excluding Volkswagen) for defective driver and passenger frontal airbags made by the Japanese parts supplier.  The issue involves defective inflator and propellant devices in the airbags, which may explode in a crash, shooting metal fragments into vehicle occupants. A number of Takata lawsuits have been filed.
If the incident involving the side airbag of the 2015 VW Tiguan is linked to the problem with Takata’s defective front airbags, it would be notable for several reasons.
  • It would be the first report of an issue involving Takata side airbags.
  • It would be the first airbag-related incident involving a Volkswagen vehicle.
  •  It would be the first incident affecting a model year later than 2011 (with the exception of the 2014 Ford Mustang).  A majority of previous airbag malfunctions have been in vehicles on the road for a decade or more.
Volkswagen is now under special order by the NHTSA to supply documentation concerning possible defective airbags in its vehicles.

For its part, a Takata spokesperson told Automotive News, “We believe [this malfunction] is unrelated to the previous recalls, which the extensive data suggests were a result of aging and long-term exposure to heat and high humidity.”

New Congressional Pressure on Takata

In light of these new developments, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) and Ed Markey (D-Mass) have sent a letter urging Takata to recall all of its airbags using ammonium nitrate propellant.  In their letter, the senators note that the VW incident in June undercuts “Takata’s continued insistence – despite growing evidence to the contrary – that the flaws in its airbag inflators are limited to prior designs in older model cars and only present when the airbags have prolonged exposure to extremely humid conditions.”

The senators’ request is voluntary, and Takata has until September 3 to respond to their letter – although they are not legally bound to.  Even so, Takata could be forced to recall every airbag with ammonium nitrate propellant should this congressional request become a formal order by the NHTSA, according to Car and Driver.

Such a move by the NHTSA could involve millions of additional cars being recalled, including some which have been previously recalled for the airbag issue.  Later model vehicles with Takata’s newest airbags, including vehicles currently on the assembly line, could also be impacted.

Exposure to moisture is known to cause ammonium nitrate to combust violently: more than other chemical compounds used in airbags.  Takata’s use of ammonium nitrate in its airbags has been a source of controversy.  In testimony to Congress in June, Takata executive vice president Kevin Kennedy stated the company is the only airbag supplier to use the chemical as a main propellant, but would be changing to another propellant in response to building concern.

Takata began using the more volatile ammonium nitrate propellant in 1999, in place of Tetrazole – a notably more expensive synthetic compound used in many of the company’s current inflators.  During his testimony, Kennedy denied Takata made the switch to cut costs.

Cory Watson Attorneys represents people injured by defective products including automobile airbags.  Call us for a free legal consultation regarding a potential airbag lawsuit at (877) 686-8992.

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