Takata says refusal to comply with regulator is best for customer safety

Takata defies demand for nationwide recall
Takata defies demand for nationwide recall

Takata is citing driver safety as the reason for its controversial refusal to comply with federal regulators who want a national recall of its airbags.

The National Highway Safety Administration has demanded that Takata recall driver side airbags nationwide, rather than only in states with high humidity, which is believed to be a factor in causing the airbags to explode. About four million airbags have been recalled in those parts of the country.

The company believes that "public safety is best served" by ensuring that replacement airbags get to the regions where the drivers are at risk, said Hiroshi Shimizu, Takata's senior vice president of quality assurance, at a Congressional hearing Wednesday.

"At this moment there is not enough scientific evidence to change from a regional to a national recall," Shimizu said.

Shimizu said the company is willing to work with the 10 automakers whose cars have the Takata airbags if they decide to expand their recalls. About 8 million autos have been recalled for the problem, most of which were manufactured by Honda (HMC).

And Honda announced at the hearing that it will expand its recall of driver side airbags nationally.

Related: Takata airbag victims looked like they had been shot or stabbed

"We believe our customers have concerns and we want to satisfy our customer," Honda executive vice president Rick Schostek told lawmakers.

But Schostek also said Honda is worried that expanding the recall nationally will cause a shortage of replacement airbags. He said the company is talking to other suppliers about providing it with the necessary parts.

He also said that while Honda will repair cars nationwide, "We still believe the highest risk is [to autos] in the high humidity areas and those should be prioritized."

Takata's Shimizu apologized for the deaths and injuries tied to the exploding airbags. At least five deaths have been attributed to the problem, and at least two drivers suffered vision damage due to airbag shrapnel.

David Friedman, NHTSA's deputy administrator, is set to testify that the agency no longer believes a regional recall is sufficient, since there has been at least one exploding driver's side airbag reported outside of that region. He said the agency is prepared to take the legal action needed to force Takata to comply.

But Friedman clarified that the agency is not ordering a national recall of passenger side airbags made by Takata, and is sticking with the regional recall in that instance.

"At this point, a national recall of all Takata [passenger side] air bags would divert replacement air bags from areas where they are clearly needed, putting lives at risk," he said in his prepared remarks.

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