Television and mainstream newspapers have finally latched on to the Takata airbag recall. Fair Go even went as far as saying it ‘discovered the huge scale’ of the recall. But the huge scale has been expanding for the past three-and-a-half years, since the Japanese company was forced to admit there was a problem with its airbag inflators. automotivenews.co.nz warned of it in July, 2014. Here’s a timeline, each date resulting in more recalls.
April 2013: Takata announces the problem with its airbag inflators, saying they could rupture and send debris flying inside the vehicle. The airbags were made in Takata’s plant in Mexico. Initially, only seven carmakers were affected – BMW, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Toyota.
June 2013: Takata says propellant chemicals were mishandled and improperly stored during assemby. It would continue to investigate, it said, and fix the problem. The US National Highway Transport Association (NHTSA) gets further involved.
July 2013: Takata blames humid weather, saying moisture could destabilise the airbag’s propellant chemicals. More carmakers issue global recalls. United States transport authorities recall vehicles in steamy states like Florida and Hawaii, among others.
Over the next 12 months: More recalls from more brands. News agency Reuters reported that rust and bad welds in the inflators were at fault. It said documents it had viewed showed Takata’s plant in Mexico allowed a defect rate six to eight times above acceptable limits.
July 2014: automotivenews.co.nz highlights on July 1 how New Zealand would continue to be affected in a report headlined Suspect airbags in thousands of NZ-new and used vehicles. A New York Times report suggested Takata had known about the issue with inflators since 2004 but had done tests in secret to try and find the problem.
November 2014: Takata denies the report, saying the tests were done at the request of the US Government on airbag cushions and not inflators. US senators call for a criminal investigation. The NHTSA issues an America-wide recall of vehicles equipped with Takata airbags. Officials from Takata and motorists injured by defective airbags meet with the US Congress.
February 2015: Takata boosts production of replacement airbag inflators. Reports of deaths and injuries from the defective airbags continue.Takata faces fines of $US14,000 a day for its apparent refusal to cooperate with US federal investigators.
March 2015: Americans mostly ignore the recalls. Just 12 per cent of all cars recalled for the faulty airbags in the US have been repaired. In Japan, it’s 70 per cent of three million cars recalled.
April 2015: Chrysler, Ford, Toyota expand recalls. Honda acknowledges that the driver of a 2003 Civic was injured by a ruptured Takata airbag. Nissan also reports a driver injury.
May 2015: Takata says the airbags in 34 million vehicles worldwide are potentially defective. US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx calls the expanded recall the “most complex consumer-safety recall in US history.” He added: “Up until now Takata has refused to acknowledge that their airbags are defective. That changes today.”
June 2015: Takata tells Reuters that at least 10 per cent of the four million replacement airbag inflators will have to be replaced again. The death of a woman driver in Louisiana from metal shards from a Takata airbag brings to seven fatalities in Honda vehicles alone. Takata president Shigehisa Takada apologises for the deaths and injuries.
July 2015: The Takata airbag in a Nissan X-Trail explodes in a crash in Japan and sends high-temperature fragments into the car, causing a fire. The driver sustains minor injuries.
August 2015: Takata begins advertising campaign urging the installation of replacment inflators. It’s aimed mostly aimed at high-humidity states in the US. The rupture of a side airbag in a Volkswagen Tiguan that hit a deer in the US is, says Takata, a malfunction that resulted from “aging and long-term exposure to heat and high humidity.”
November 2015: Honda announces it will no longer use Takata airbags. It says: “We have become aware of evidence that suggests Takata misrepresented and manipulated test data for certain airbag inflators.” Honda has been Takata’s biggest customer for years. Toyota, Mazda and Nissan also drop Takata. The Wall Street Journal reports that Takata withheld airbag-inflator failures in reports to Honda in 2000, four years before Honda itself began its own investigation into Takata airbag problems.
December 2015: The NHTSA says the death of a man in a 2001 Honda Accord is blamed on a Takata inflator. Although the crash happened in Pennsylvania, the Accord had spent several years in the humid deep south.
January 2016: A man in the US state of Georgia dies in a Takata airbag-related crash while driving a 2006 Ford Ranger. US safety regulators immediately add another five million vehicles to the Takta recall list.
February 2016: Daimler recalls more than 700,000 Mercedes-Benz cars and 136,000 vans in the US made between 2005-2014. Audi, BMW and VW recall 1.7 million vehicles. Independent tests of suspect Takata airbags reveal a “combination of three factors – the use of ammonimun nitrate (as a propellant), the construction of Takta’s inflator assembly, and the exposure to heat and humidity – that made the inflators vulnerable to rupture.”
March 2016: Court documents viewed by Reuters show Honda requested Takata redesign its faulty airbag inflators to be ‘fail-safe’ back in 2009.
April 2016: A US teenager dies when she rear-ends a car in Houston, Texas. Her throat was lacerated by fragments of the airbag inflator and witnesses said she collapsed after getting out of the car. Her’s is the 11th Takata-related death worldwide.
September 2016: Honda confirms that the Takata airbag in a 2009 Honda City ruptured and killed the driver in Johor, Malaysia. It is the fourth death linked to a Takata airbag in Malaysia this year. Takata reveals to Reuters that it neglected to notify the NHTSA of a 2003 rupture of one of its airbags in Switzerland.
October 2016: The worldwide recall, which involves carmakers in Japan, Europe and the USA, is the largest automobile recall in history and may affect up to 100 million vehicles worldwide, among them 300,000 or so in New Zealand.