The United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has demanded Takata to submit documents and answer questions under oath over its use of ammonium nitrate as a propellant in its airbag inflators. The request gives rise to suggestions that NHTSA might be looking at ammonium nitrate as a possible cause of ruptured Takata inflators that have been tied to five deaths globally.
NHTSA demands were outlined in its Nov. 18 special order, which is equivalent to a subpoena. Takata has been used inexpensive ammonium nitrate as the gas-producing propellant to inflate airbags during a crash. Ammonium nitrate is also used in explosives and fertilizers and could become unstable when exposed to humidity and moisture.
NHTSA wants Takata to produce all documents that expressly or implicitly say that the chemical is too unstable to be used in airbag inflators.
NHTSA also wants Takata to provide a timeline detailing all instances since January 2000 when the chemical composition of its inflator propellant was changed -- including the changes made, the reasons for the changes, the personnel involved.
NHTSA likewise wants Takata to provide any studies or testing data regarding its airbag inflator propellant formulas. The special order is part of a probe into the inflators. Takata, NHTSA and carmakers are still trying to determine the root cause of the airbag ruptures. Failure to heed the order by Friday could mean a maximum $35 million fine.
A recent report by Nikkei said that Takata is getting ready to comply with an order from NHTSA to upgrade a regional recall into national one. NHTSA had given Takata until December 2 to declare that its airbag inflators are defective and to issue a national recall. Such a move would a few more million cars would be added to nearly 8 million already recalled by Takata.
Should Takata don’t heed the order, NHTSA could impose up to $7,000 per vehicle in fines as well as force the Japanese company to issue a recall. According to Nikkei, Takata was already in final preparations to expand the recall.
However, a Takata spokeswoman said that no decision had been made concerning the NHTSA order. A number of auto companies have recalled regionally over 4.1 million cars fitted with Takata airbags. Interestingly, Honda accounted for over half of the recalled units.
Takata has refused to heed requests to initiate a nationwide recall, saying that it could divert replacement parts away from the where they are needed the most. Auto regulators in Japan have also said a recall of affected vehicles could be initiated in the country if Takata complies with NHTSA’s order for nationwide recall in the US.