Au­tomak­ers slow to fix dan­ger­ous air bags

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Agov­ern­ment ef­fort to speed up re­calls of more than 21 mil­lion of the most dan­ger­ous Takata air bag in­fla­tors is fall­ing short, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis of com­ple­tion rates by AP. Nearly 10 mil­lion in­fla­tors with the high­est risk of rup­tur­ing re­mained in use as of March 31, the lat­est doc­u­ments filed by 10 au­tomak­ers with the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion show. That makes it likely that au­tomak­ers won’t meet the gov­ern­ment’s Dec 31 dead­line to fin­ish the re­calls, most of which be­gan in mid-2015.

De­fec­tive Takata air bag in­fla­tors can hurl shrap­nel at driv­ers and pas­sen­gers in­volved in a crash. At least 18 deaths have been re­ported world­wide, in­clud­ing 12 in the US. In­fla­tors with a greater risk of rup­tur­ing, deemed “Pri­or­ity One” by NHTSA, are older, are of a type more prone to fail­ing, or they’ve been in high hu­mid­ity ar­eas for many years. Just last week, Florida au­thor­i­ties were in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether an ex­plod­ing in­fla­tor in an older Honda Ac­cord killed a 34-year-old mother of three near Tampa.

Of NHTSA’s 15 high­est-pri­or­ity re­calls, 10 had com­ple­tion rates be­low 50 per­cent on the lat­est quar­terly re­ports from au­tomak­ers. In one re­call of Ford Ranger pick­ups, the com­ple­tion per­cent­age was only 1.1 per­cent. In six re­calls, fewer than one-third of the in­fla­tors had been re­placed. “The long and short of it is the re­call is fail­ing,” said US Sen Bill Nel­son, a fre­quent NHTSA critic. Florida has more than 3 mil­lion re­called in­fla­tors with only about one-third re­placed, ac­cord­ing to Nel­son’s of­fice.

Over­all, 46 mil­lion in­fla­tors have been re­called as of June 23. The gov­ern­ment says au­tomak­ers have re­placed 16 mil­lion, about 40 per­cent. But more re­calls are com­ing, which will put a fur­ther strain on car com­pa­nies, deal­ers and own­ers to get the re­pairs done. NHTSA say it’s “deeply con­cerned” that some au­tomak­ers have low com­ple­tion rates. In a 2015 or­der, NHTSA threat­ened fines against au­tomak­ers who don’t com­ply with dead­lines. Asked if fines are pos­si­ble, an agency spokes­woman said it is mon­i­tor­ing com­pli­ance “and will take fur­ther ac­tion as ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Au­tomak­ers say com­ple­tion rates are im­prov­ing and they’re co­op­er­at­ing with the gov­ern­ment. Some say they’ve had trou­ble get­ting parts, and most have had dif­fi­culty find­ing own­ers and per­suad­ing them to get cars re­paired. Subaru, Mit­subishi and Nis­san did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. Crit­ics such as Nel­son say NHTSA is rud­der­less un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. Since Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump took of­fice, the agency has been with­out an ad­min­is­tra­tor and two top deputies. But the re­calls were mov­ing slowly be­fore Trump took of­fice, records show.

Ford’s slow re­sponse in the Jan 2016 re­call of driver-side in­fla­tors in Ford Ranger pick­ups means thou­sands of trucks with dan­ger­ous in­fla­tors are still being driven. A South Carolina man was killed by an in­fla­tor in Dec of 2015 when his Ranger crashed. Only 511 of the nearly 362,000 re­called Rangers from the 2004 through 2006 model years have been fixed, with an­other 3,500 own­ers un­reach­able or ve­hi­cles re­moved from use, ac­cord­ing to Ford’s lat­est re­port. Ford had two other re­calls from 2015 with com­ple­tion rates un­der 40 per­cent.

Spokes­woman El­iz­a­beth Weigandt says Ford has been re­plac­ing Ranger in­fla­tors in high-risk ar­eas with newer ver­sions of the same in­fla­tors that are in the ve­hi­cles now, with the in­tent of swap­ping them for safer ones later, she says. Since the in­fla­tors de­te­ri­o­rate over time, newer ones are bet­ter. “We are work­ing with our sup­pli­ers to ex­pe­dite fi­nal rem­edy parts for these ve­hi­cles and ex­pect those to be avail­able in early fourth quar­ter 2017,” she says, de­clin­ing fur­ther com­ment.

Quar­terly re­ports filed by BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Daim­ler Vans, Nis­san, Mazda and Mit­subishi all showed com­ple­tion rates un­der 50 per­cent. Daim­ler hit only 8.4 per­cent and BMW reached 28.6 per­cent. Fiat Chrysler’s lone re­call came in at 48 per­cent, while one Toy­ota re­call was above 50 per­cent and an­other just be­low. Subaru hit 57 per­cent. Due to a parts sup­plier problem, BMW got a five-month dead­line ex­ten­sion.

Most of the re­ports are as of March 31, the lat­est avail­able. Fiat Chrysler and Subaru fig­ures are from the sec­ond quar­ter, while the lat­est avail­able Nis­san and Mit­subishi re­ports were from last year’s third quar­ter. At that time, Mit­subishi was at 31 per­cent, while Nis­san reached just 25.6 per­cent. Even Honda, which has re­placed over 63 per­cent of the in­fla­tors in its two “Pri­or­ity One” re­calls, has 3.3 mil­lion in­fla­tors left to fix. In a letter to sen­a­tors, NHTSA Act­ing Deputy Ad­min­is­tra­tor Jack Daniel­son wrote that au­tomak­ers have had enough time to get re­place­ment parts.

Sev­eral ve­hi­cle own­ers say deal­ers are still turn­ing them away for lack of parts. John Car­roll of Bel Air, Mary­land, near Baltimore, says he checks with his dealer of­ten to see if an in­fla­tor has ar­rived for his 2010 Mercedes ML350 driver’s air bag. “The an­swer is al­ways the same. They don’t have the parts yet,” says Car­roll. To get over 60 per­cent, Honda set up teams in ma­jor metro ar­eas who visit own­ers’ homes. In some cases, Honda will send tech­ni­cians to fix cars in drive­ways. The com­pany also has used let­ters, so­cial me­dia and tele­phone calls to reach own­ers, spokesman Chris Martin says. NHTSA has urged au­tomak­ers to take steps sim­i­lar to Honda, and it has hired a mon­i­tor to watch the au­tomak­ers. —AP

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