Takata Plans To Stop Using Ammonium Nitrate, Phase Out Certain Airbag Inflators

takataA day before representatives from Japanese auto parts maker Takata are set to appear in front of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee to discuss the more than 34 million defective airbags linked to six deaths and more than a hundred injuries, the company announced it would stop using an often volatile chemical in its safety devices moving forward and call back some airbags replaced during earlier recalls.

The Detroit News reports that Takata is also expected to notify legislators and regulators that it plans to recall some driver-side airbag inflators that have previously been replaced and halt production of a certain type of airbag.

Calling back airbags that have already been replaced gives credence to consumer advocates’ worries over the safety of Takata’s replacement airbags, given that the company – along with investigators for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and automakers – have yet to find a root cause for the airbag ruptures.

According to remarks [PDF] prepared by Takata executive Kevin Kennedy, the company is taking steps to ensure that newly replaced airbags are safe.

“We are working with our automaker partners to transition to newer versions of driver inflators in our replacement kits or inflators made by other suppliers that do not contain ammonium nitrate propellant,” explains Kennedy.

The unusual chemical has been a topic of discussion among regulators and investigators trying to determine why the Takata-produced airbags have a tendency to shoot shrapnel upon deployment.

Back in October, investigators began to focus on the unusual explosive chemical – ammonium nitrate – used in Takata’s airbags.

Chemicals have long been the powerful mechanism behind airbags. That’s why after some crashes, the driver or front-seat passenger in a vehicle may have chemical burns on their skin.

Typically the inside of an airbag contains an igniter that heats an aspirin-sized tablet of compressed chemical. The ensuing reaction fills the airbag with gas, inflating it at speeds reaching a few hundred miles per hour.

Takata began using ammonium nitrate in its airbags in the late 1990s, because of the chemical’s ability to make airbags inflate in a matter of milliseconds.

Since the company began making replacement parts for the recalled vehicles, it claims to have added materials that gather and hold moisture to the chemical mix in an effort to make the device safer.

In addition to phasing out the use of ammonium nitrate, Kennedy is expected to detail the parts maker’s next steps with regard to its history-making recall.

“The final stage of the recalls will include the replacement of batwing driver inflators that were previously installed as remedy parts in prior recalls,” the testimony states. “Takata has also committed to cease producing these types of driver inflators.”

The Detroit News reports that in all six cases of ruptures that resulted in fatalities, the driver-side airbag included the batwing inflators.

Still, Kennedy says in the prepared testimony that the 67 reported cases of ruptures including that specific inflator “represent approximately… fewer than 9 failures out of every 100,000 deployments.”

As for passenger-side airbag ruptures, Takata say there have been no cases involving fatalities and only 21 actual reports of ruptures. However, company plans to recall one type of passenger inflator.

In addition to changing its chemical component and ceasing production of one inflator type, Takata says it is working on developing a proactive advertising campaign to reach a greater number of vehicle owners and “help ensure that the recall fulfillment rates will be as high as possible.”

Despite Takata’s recent efforts to remedy the massive airbag debacle, the head of the auto trade association is expected to endorse NHTSA’s plans to use its authority to take a hands-on approach to overseeing the recall and its fix, the Detroit News reports.

“A clear, unified approach to the recall and remedy process is the most effective way to minimize owner confusion and improve participation rates for this recall,” Mitch Bainwol, CEO for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, says in prepared testimony [PDF]. “It is also important that NHTSA continue to have a prominent voice among its international counterparts, given the global nature of this recall.”

Takata to phase out, replace some air bags [The Detroit News]

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