CHICAGO — A VIN tracking program that would follow vehicles by vehicle identification number and location over time is one of the key recommendations of an outside panel that has completed a probe into airbag supplier Takata Corp.
Takata is at the center of one of the largest product recalls in U.S. history. A Takata recall expansion in late January brings to 28 million the number of Takata airbag inflators recalled in the U.S.
The defective airbags can explode with too much force, shooting metal shrapnel at vehicle occupants.
They have been linked to nine deaths in the U.S.
The panel, which includes former U.S. Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner and two former heads of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, called compliance rates of owners bringing vehicles into dealerships for service "underwhelming."
It said Takata's current recall efforts have "crystallized the numerous already known shortcomings in the nation's recall system."
It is unknown how consumers will react to the call for a VIN tracking program, but the panel clearly expects some resistance.
"The panel recognizes the need to respect the privacy of owners who may not want their vehicles to be 'tracked,'" the panel's report said. "However, implementing this capability may not require any additional data acquisition on vehicles or their owners over what is already available from state departments of motor vehicles, insurance companies and registered automobile service outlets, all of whom collect the VIN for their own business purposes."
The panel suggested that state insurance commissioners could require insurance companies to be part of such a "collaborative effort."
In addition, state DMVs could license and renew licenses only for vehicles that have no outstanding safety recalls.
The panel also suggested that future vehicles be equipped with internal airbag sensors that would warn the vehicle owner and airbag supplier, "There is a risk that the inflator will no longer perform as designed."
The panel did not analyze any specific product failure or reported quality incident, but was set up to look into Takata's manufacturing practices.
It did not "form any conclusions regarding the root cause of Takata's current inflator ruptures," the report said.
The panel urged Takata to improve its safety culture by creating a "dedicated quality team" and noted, "the current recall campaign has stressed Takata's workforce, and that stress is only going to increase as Takata increases the production of replacement kits."
Edmunds says: Consumers are still waiting for results of separate probes into the root cause of the defective Takata airbags, so questions remain. At the very least, this report underscores the need to stay on top of whether your vehicle is involved in the recall.