WASHINGTON — The ongoing Takata airbag recall crisis grew on Wednesday as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that the Japanese supplier will add an estimated 35-40 million inflators to the already 28.8 million inflators previously recalled in the U.S.
The additional recalls will be conducted in five phases from May 16 until December 2019, said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind in a Webcast of the announcement.
At this point, the specific vehicles and the number of additional vehicles involved in the recall expansion have not been disclosed. It will be up to vehicle manufacturers to inform NHTSA of which ones are part of the latest recall.
Rosekind said NHTSA will consult with affected vehicle manufacturers in the coming weeks and then let consumers know when they can expect to have the defective inflators replaced.
The defective airbags can explode with too much force, shooting metal fragments at vehicle occupants. Ruptures of the Takata inflators have been linked to 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries in the U.S.
"The expansions mean that all Takata ammonium nitrate-based propellant driver and passenger frontal air bag inflators without a chemical drying agent, also known as a desiccant, will be recalled," said NHTSA in a statement.
During the Webcast, Rosekind addressed consumer frustrations about the pace of the Takata recalls and also dealt with concerns about whether embattled Takata will be financially able to cope with the expanded recalls.
"My family has a vehicle with a Takata inflator that's sitting in our driveway," Rosekind said. "I fully understand the frustration."
He advised consumers to "talk to your dealer, try to get a loaner. Owners, be checking every week to see when supplies are available. Make sure you are in touch with that dealer at least once a month."
Rosekind also said the Takata recall completion is the "responsibility of the entire industry including manufacturers, to make sure these inflators get recalled."
Some legislators decried Wednesday's action as not going far enough to protect the safety of the driving public.
"Repeated stopgap partial steps, like today's, will only continue to put drivers, their passengers, and even others on the road at urgent risk," said U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) in a joint statement. "Until all Takata airbags are replaced with truly reliable protective products that don't use ammonium nitrate and have proven that they pass most stringent quality assurance testing standards, Takata's spiraling record of fatal tragedy will continue."
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) added: "The largest auto recall in our nation's history just doubled but, unfortunately, the pace at which Takata and the automakers are replacing these faulty airbags has not. The top priority must be doing whatever is necessary to get these potentially deadly airbags out of people's cars as quickly as possible. If we wait another three or four years for these to get replaced more people are likely to die."
NHTSA said a "likely root cause" of the defective inflators has been determined, based on reports by three independent research organizations. The cause is a "function of time, temperature cycling and environmental moisture," NHTSA said, adding that "manufacturing variability" by Takata also could be a contributing factor.
Separately, Honda's Malaysian subsidiary on Wednesday confirmed that the Takata single-stage driver's airbag inflators ruptured in two crashes in April and May in Malaysia.
"Both crashes resulted in the tragic deaths of the drivers," said Honda in a statement provided to Edmunds. "No official cause of death has been yet determined for either case."
Edmunds says: Consumers should remain vigilant and regularly check NHTSA's VIN Lookup tool to determine whether their vehicle is part of the ongoing and expanded Takata airbag inflator recall. It's also critical to stay in touch with your dealer regarding parts availability.