Takata says recall decision up to automakers
Japan's Takata Corp refused to comply with a United States government demand for an expanded recall of its airbags that can explode and shoot out shrapnel, and instead passed along the crucial decision to automakers.
The response, which the US immediately criticised as inadequate, sets the stage for a showdown between the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the company, when they appeared before the US Congress subcommittee on Wednesday.
A number of committee members expressed concern that the limited nature of the recall was confusing to consumers outside of the current recall zones.
Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, the panel's senior Democrat, said she has received letters from constituents "who are literally afraid to drive their cars".
But Hiroshi Shimizu, senior vice-president of global quality assurance at Takata, maintained the company's defiant stance, telling lawmakers at the hearing that the available data and scientific evidence on the air bags "doesn't support" a nationwide recall.
Takata also contends that NHTSA only has authority to seek recalls from auto manufacturers and makers of replacement parts, not original parts suppliers. NHTSA disagrees.
So far, 14 million vehicles worldwide have been recalled due to the airbag problem, including eight million in the US. Takata has yet to pinpoint a cause, even though the recalls started a decade ago.
The US government wants Takata and automakers to add millions of cars across the US to recalls now limited to areas with high humidity. The automakers on Tuesday indicated that they want to do their own testing, in addition to tests underway at Takata.
The deadline had been set for Tuesday midnight for Takata to send a response to NHTSA, which was demanding a national recall of driver-side airbags or face civil fines and legal action.
In Tokyo, Takata spokesman Hideyuki Matsumoto said the company's response to NHTSA was "neither a yes nor a no". Takata agreed to cooperate with the automakers on whatever they decide, he said.
The NHTSA was not satisfied with Takata's reply, calling it "disappointing", adding that it was reviewing the response to determine the next steps.
"Takata shares responsibility for keeping drivers safe, and we believe anything short of a national recall does not live up to that responsibility," it said.
Takata on Tuesday said it had formed a panel to investigate its inflator-manufacturing process. Takata also said it was working with top scientists who specialise in propellants, inflators, and airbag systems to evaluate its inflators.
The company said it would "produce additional replacement units to support any further recalls that may be announced by our customers".
Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Company have been calling for an industry-wide investigation, but they did not have an immediate comment on the Takata response.
At Wednesday's hearing before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, an executive from Honda said the automaker would expand its recall nationwide. Honda is one of Takata's biggest customers.
Toshitake Inoshita, a Nissan Motor Company spokesman in Yokohama headquarters, also had no comment, stressing the problems were still under investigation.
In a statement, Toyota said it will ask the industry to hire an independent engineering company, and the affected companies would share results to figure out recall repairs. So far, General Motors, Nissan, Subaru, Chrysler and Ford have agreed to cooperate.