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Takata to Reduce Production of Airbags With Ammonium Nitrate

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 6/3/2015 Kelly Pleskot

Takata says it will slowly transition away from using ammonium nitrate in its airbag inflators, according to new reports. The supplier made the announcement during a house panel hearing on the defective airbags yesterday.

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

Instead, the company is looking to increase production of airbag inflators with guanidine nitrate, a compound used by other airbag companies like TRW and Autoliv. The new chemical can tolerate heat and moisture better than ammonium nitrate. Kevin Kennedy, executive vice president of Takata's North American affiliate, acknowledged that "ammonium nitrate appears to be one of the factors" behind the infamous airbag ruptures.

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Just last month, Takata expanded its airbag recalls to include 33.8 million vehicles in the U.S. The inflators in these airbags can explode upon activation, hurling metal shards at drivers and passengers. The airbags have been linked to six deaths and more than 100 reported injuries.

Ammonium nitrate has been criticized for its tendency to degrade when exposed to moisture. When this happens, the compound ignites with too much force during a crash, causing the metal inflator canister to rupture. According to Kennedy, these ruptures are believed to occur after several years of exposure to hot and humid climates.

Despite the risks behind ammonium nitrate, Takata says it won't completely stop using the chemical for now. Kennedy even defended the company's use of the chemical, saying it is safe when used correctly. The automaker is adding a drying agent to many -- but not all -- of its new airbags with ammonium nitrate. This should help absorb moisture and extend the inflator's shelf life.

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

Source: The Detroit News, Automotive News (Subscription required)

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