WASHINGTON — Legislators prepping for a Wednesday hearing on the Takata airbag recall crisis said they have a long list of questions for the Japanese supplier and federal safety regulators, including "how do we prevent this from happening again?"
The questions were part of a lengthy background memo released on Monday by the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade.
The House panel questions include:
What has been learned from inflator testing so far?
How much testing needs to be done before a root cause is identified or it is concluded that there are other issues with the inflator design?
What factors do manufacturers consider when determining the vehicle model years and geographic areas that are subject to recall?
The Takata airbag crisis covers approximately 8 million vehicles in the U.S. There have been four fatalities in the U.S. linked to the recall. The airbag inflators can explode, shooting metal parts at vehicle occupants.
Takata and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have been testing returned inflators parts from the field to determine the scope of vehicles impacted and the root cause of the potential defect.
The memo said Takata has collected approximately 12,000 inflator parts from the field and conducted tests on approximately 4,000 of those parts. Between 1,000 and 2,000 of those inflator parts have been collected from areas outside of the designated high absolute humidity climate regions such as Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Takata is testing approximately 100 inflators per day.
"They are seeking to double their testing capacity at some point in the future," the memo said. "Takata is reporting the results of its testing to vehicle manufacturers and NHTSA as they become available."
The Japanese supplier is producing about 300,000 replacement kits a month for automakers, parts suppliers and dealers to replace the defective inflators. Takata is expected to increase production to 450,000 replacement kits a month by January 2015.
"Takata has not disclosed whether it has made any changes to the design specifications or manufacturing processes for the replacement inflators," the memo noted. "In discussions with staff, most vehicle manufacturers indicated that they were replacing the inflators with ‘like' parts, indicating that it was the same inflator with the same propellant presumably manufactured the same way but of a newer vintage."
Hiroshi Shimizu, Takata's senior vice president for global quality assurance, is expected to testify at Wednesday's hearing.
Edmunds says: Concerned consumers want to know whether Takata's replacement inflators are basically of the same design as the defective inflators — and whether that matters.