Honda Expands Faulty Driver Airbag Recall

HONDA-Airbag

Honda yesterday expanded the scope of its driver-side-only airbag recall while Takata adamantly refused to expand its recall program.

Turning to Swedish airbag manufacturer for assistance, Honda yesterday expanded its driver-side-only airbag recall. Formerly, the recall had been limited to high-humidity areas, however, in response to requests from federal regulators, the automaker expanded its recall.

Loaners To Be Offered

At the same time, Honda acknowledged that the added burden of a nationwide recall is taxing its ability to provide repair parts. Rick Schostek, an executive vice president, told a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, that the automaker will prioritize the recalls to concentrate on high-humidity areas because of the limited supply of replacement parts. He also indicated the automaker would provide free loaner cars to owners until repairs can be made.

He told the committee that the automaker has begun working with the Swedish airbag manufacturer Autoliv to obtain replacement parts. Daicel has also been contacted by the automaker.

In acknowledging that it will build airbag inflators for Honda, Autoliv CEO Jan Carlson said “In the current difficult situation with a very high level of field actions and recalls in the market we are doing our utmost to support our customers…With quality as our first priority we are assessing the current and upcoming market needs in order to match our delivery capabilities in the best possible way.”

Autoliv told Automotive News that it has plans to expand capacity to produce airbag inflators and that it would likely be six months before they would have sufficient supply to ease Honda’s crunch.

Takata Stands Adamant

Meantime, Takata continues to refuse to expand its airbag recall, maintaining that it just isn’t necessary.
Hiroshi Shimizu, senior vice president of global quality assurance, while apologizing for deaths and injuries associated with airbag inflators, told the House subcommittee yesterday that the data “still supports that we should remain focused on the region with high temperature and high humidity.” He told the panel that airbag inflators made today are safe.

In reality, the expanded Honda recall deals with driver-side airbag inflators, while Takata, already the subject of 14 million vehicles since 2004, is dealing with passenger-side airbag inflators. The fault causes an airbag inflators to develop overpressure on deployment. The overpressure can cause the inflator to burst scything shards, like shrapnel, through a car’s passenger compartment. To date, 11 carmakers have been affected by the recall issue. Five deaths and hundreds of injuries have been linked to the exploding inflators.

Honda’s move to expanded the recall comes at a time when neither Honda, Takata nor the NHTSA say they know the true cause of the airbag inflator failure. NHTSA broadened the scope of the recall last month when it received evidence that failures had also occurred outside of high-humidity areas.

“While we accept regional recalls where the evidence supports it, the evidence no longer supports a recall limited to those areas,” NHTSA’s deputy administrator, David Friedman, told the panel.

NHTSA Can Force Recall

He indicated the safety regulation agency could force Takata to broaden its recall. However, he said, it would take months to obtain all the facts in the case to force the recall and he indicated that the agency would do so if needed.

Meantime, Friedman also indicated the agency is considering the penalties the Honda will face for failing to report 1,729 defect-related crashes involving deaths and injuries over the last decade. Some of the crashes reportedly involved Takata airbag failures. Honda attributed the reporting failure to data entry and computer coding errors. Honda could face a fine of up to $35 million.

Calling on other automakers to audit their own safety reporting to ensure that they have not made similar errors, Friedman said “They’ve already basically admitted their guilt. We will hold them accountable to the full extent of the law.”

Honda’s Schostek said its reporting failure is “difficult to comprehend,” however it was not done intentionally. “It is unfortunate and, yes, inexcusable,” he said. “But we view this as a management responsibility, and we are taking actions to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

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Marc Stern has spent more than 40 years in and around cars. His work has included answering motorist questions, motor vehicle reviews and evaluation and writing dealers, consumer and industry news pieces. In addition, Mr. Stern has contributed to well-known automotive publications including Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, AutoWeek and Old Cars Weekly, among others.

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