US regulators demand auto parts maker Takata back nationwide airbag recall

Visitors look at displays of Japanese auto parts maker Takata (left) at a car showroom in Tokyo on Nov 11, 2014. US regulators on Wednesday pressured Japanese auto parts maker Takata to expand its recall of potentially defective airbags across t
Visitors look at displays of Japanese auto parts maker Takata (left) at a car showroom in Tokyo on Nov 11, 2014. US regulators on Wednesday pressured Japanese auto parts maker Takata to expand its recall of potentially defective airbags across the United States, or risk up to US$35 million (S$45 million) in financial penalties. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US regulators on Wednesday pressured Japanese auto parts maker Takata to expand its recall of potentially defective airbags across the United States, or risk up to US$35 million (S$45 million) in financial penalties.

The target of civil and criminal probes in the United States over its airbags, which can explode and send deadly shrapnel into the car's occupants, Takata so far has only supported auto-safety recalls in a handful of states like Florida and Hawaii where high humidity appears to contribute to the ruptures.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in a letter on Wednesday to the company, repeated its request from earlier in the month that Takata submit a safety recall report "that unequivocally states that a defect exists in the subject driver's side."

Despite several deaths and multiple injuries linked to the airbags, and mounting evidence of a safety defect in them, NHTSA said, Takata had responded that it did not agree with the agency's basis for a nationwide recall of driver's side airbags and had failed to submit the report.

"Takata has not provided any new information to support its position that a regional recall is appropriate, nor has Takata provided any explanation for driver-side airbag ruptures that have occurred outside the areas of high absolute humidity," wrote Frank Borris, head of the agency's Office of Defects Investigation.

Takata must submit a report that covers all subject driver's-side air bag inflators, regardless of where the vehicle is registered or operated, he said.

If it fails to submit the report by Dec 2, "NHTSA may proceed to an Initial Decision that these vehicles contain a safety-related defect."

In addition, NHTSA warned Takata risks civil penalties of up to US$7,000 per vehicle equipped with the defective airbags.

US authorities have identified the defective airbags affect 7.8 million vehicles in the United States, but the maximum penalty under law is US$35 million.

So far this year, some 16 million vehicles from 10 automakers worldwide have been recalled.

The affected automakers are Honda, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota.

In a separate letter on Tuesday, NHTSA demanded that Chrysler step up the pace of its recall, saying the manufacturer "has consistently maintained its position at the rear of the pack" in providing information and making arrangements fro replacement airbag inflators.

"I am extremely concerned about both the geographic scope and the slow pace of the recall," NHTSA deputy administrator David Friedman said in the letter to Sergio Marchionne, chairman and chief executive of Chrysler Group.

The agency, without threatening a penalty, called on Chrysler to submit by Monday a report outlining a schedule for notifying its affected customers in the safety recall.