Senators Concerned about Takata’s Accountability in Massive Air Bag Recall

Two U.S. senators have written to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for guidance about holding Takata Corporation accountable in the air bag inflator recall if its U.S. subsidiary declares bankruptcy. The air bag recall is one of the largest automotive recalls in U.S. history.

In a letter made public on Monday, Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey expressed their concerns about Takata to NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind. They wrote, “We have concerns about Takata’s financial solvency, which is now at risk … and that as a result, consumers could be left with defective airbags that no one will be forced to fix,” Reuters reports.

Last week, NHTSA announced $70 million in fines for Takata and an accelerated schedule for completing the replacement of the faulty air bag inflators. The defective inflators can cause air bags to explode, propelling metal and plastic fragments into the passenger compartment. These explosions have been linked to at least eight deaths and to a number of injuries. NHTSA has ordered Takata to phase out the use of ammonium nitrate propellant, believed to be a source of the problem, Reuters reports. According to the New York Times, the compound is highly sensitive to temperature changes and moisture, and it breaks down over time. When it breaks down, it can combust violently, experts say.

In addition to the fines already announced, Takata could face up to $130 million more if it fails to meet the recall schedule. NHTSA has a list of recalled makes and models on its NHTSA web site and vehicle owners can enter their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to determine if their particular vehicle is included in the recall.

A dozen automakers, including Honda, Toyota, and Nissan, have stopped using Takata air bag inflators in the cars they manufacture, Reuters reports, resulting in a drop in revenue for Takata. The senators are concerned that the loss of business combined with fines and recall costs could “overwhelm the company and lead Takata Corporation to bankrupt its U.S. subsidiary,” the senators wrote to NHTSA. Blumenthal and Markey asked administrator Mark Rosekind how the federal government can assure that replacement air bag inflators will be available for affected U.S. car owners and how costs of the recall and further penalties would be handled in the event of a bankruptcy. NHTSA officials were not immediately available for comment, Reuters reports.