Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. has revealed for the first time that it has been making the defective air bags that were the cause of more than 7 million vehicle recalls around the world.
In a report submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and released by the agency on Friday, Takata says it has been manufacturing flawed air bags in its facility in Monclova, Mexico and selling them to automakers since 2008. However, the problem was only discovered earlier this year when Brandi Owens, a woman from Georgia, filed a lawsuit against General Motors and Takata in April after an incorrectly installed baffle led to the explosion of her car's driver-side air bag and sent sharp pieces of metal flying around and blinding one of her eyes.
Car manufacturers in the United States have recalled up to 10 million vehicles equipped with Takata-manufactured air bags, citing a variety of reasons for their recalls, including manufacturing and design flaws and incorrect installations. In its report, Takata says the ruptures seen on the air bags in recalled General Motors vehicles had a "very different" pattern from the other recalled cars with Takata air bags.
General Motors and Japanese automaker Nissan have made recalls for more than 30,000 cars combined; most of them were regional recalls that affect high-humidity areas where the air bags are more prone to rupturing under pressure. The latest recall made due to the air bags involves Nissan's Infiniti QX56 luxury sport utility vehicle. The NHTSA announced on Friday that Nissan is making a callback for more than 2,000 QX56 SUVs but will most likely not be able to provide free repairs until December, as Takata rushes to fill in the increased demand for replacement parts.
So far, a total of 10 car manufacturers have made recalls amounting up to 10 million cars due to the defective air bags alone. Lawmakers, dealerships and safety watchdog groups have been calling out Takata for its unorganized approach to dealing with its massive defect problem, saying that the Tokyo-based manufacturer is not moving quickly enough to supply replacement parts for the millions of recalled vehicles. Last week, lawmakers called on a federal judge in Miami, Florida to speed up a class-action lawsuit against Takata and four car makers because the safety of the general public is at stake.
In a meeting with NHTSA officials, Takata promised to add two more production lines by January and will take four times the number of sample air bags from recalled vehicles to accelerate testing and investigation. The NHTSA, however, says it is "unclear yet whether that would be sufficient to meet demand," and wants Takata to partner with other air bag manufacturers to speed up the production of replacement parts.
Takata is one of the three biggest manufacturers of air bags in the world, the other two being Autoliv, Inc. and TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. Together, all three account for around 75 percent of all air bags in the world.