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House Panel Hearing on Takata Airbag Recalls Set for June 2

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 5/27/2015 Karla Sanchez

Takata’s airbag recall expansion that ballooned to nearly 34 million vehicles in the U.S. last week has prompted a U.S. House of Representatives panel to schedule a hearing over the matter. The Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade said it wants to better understand the problems leading up to the recalls, and plans to do just that during the hearing on June 2.

2015 Chevrolet Sonic IIHS Airbag Deployment Test 01© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Chevrolet Sonic IIHS Airbag Deployment Test 01

“It’s past time for Takata, NHTSA, and the manufacturers to explain to drivers what went wrong and how and when they can fix it,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), said in a statement.

Research

Upton is the same man that GM CEO Mary Barra and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) acting administrator David Friedman testified to regarding the expansive ignition switch recall issued last year. After all that was said and done, Upton’s committee wrote a harsh report on the NHTSA’s handling of the GM ignition recalls, calling out the agency for making “critical mistakes” and failing to detect the faulty switches despite all the evidence for more than a decade.

While the House wants to know more about the recall, Takata is still trying to figure out the root cause of the problem. A total of 11 automakers use Takata airbags and they’re all taking separate courses of action in trying to figure out the issue. Federal safety regulators are also helping in this regard by hiring a research group to further investigate the issue.

As for what’s being done right now, replacement inflators are being installed, but even those may need to be replaced if it turns out the real problem wasn’t addressed before Takata began making parts to fix the 34 million vehicles covered by the expanded U.S. recall.

Even still, Takata insists that the new airbags are safe. The Japanese company has been investigating airbag problems for more than seven years, but says it has narrowed the search down to only “preliminary conclusions” linked to several factors. Takata claims that inflators exposed over several years to high humidity combined with cycling between extreme high and low temperatures are at risk. Too much moisture can cause the ammonium nitrate in the airbag propellant to break down, increasing the risks of a violent explosion, reports Automotive News.

Other factors to blame could include the design of the inflator or the airbag, the shape of the explosive propellant used to deploy the airbag, and vehicle design. Honda, however, blamed Takata’s manufacturing quality when testing its vehicles equipped with the airbags. The six deaths linked to the faulty airbags have all happened in Honda vehicles.

While the inflators may be safe now, the NHTSA expresses concern over whether they’ll be safe in the long run. For now, Takata has made the propellant mix safer by adding a material that gathers up and holds moisture chemically, which should extend the lifetime of the inflator by two to three times.

Pictured above are airbags from the 2015 Chevrolet Sonic -- they are not subject to the Takata recall.

Source: Energy & Commerce Committee, Automotive News (Subscription required)

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