Air bags

The Detroit News - - Front Page - Klaing@de­troit­

hu­mid­ity can cause the pro­pel­lant that in­flates the safety de­vices to be­come un­sta­ble and ex­plode with too much force dur­ing a crash. That rup­tures the metal in­fla­tor and throws shrap­nel at driv­ers and pas­sen­gers.

Honda Mo­tor Co. ve­hi­cles are dis­pro­por­tion­ately rep­re­sented in the re­call num­bers. About 17.7 mil­lion air bag in­fla­tors in­stalled in 11.4 mil­lion Hon­das and Acuras have been re­called be­cause of safety con­cerns. Honda has re­paired 11.4 mil­lion in­fla­tors so far.

The Ja­pa­nese au­tomaker hired 500 peo­ple to knock on doors to find own­ers who haven’t re­sponded to mail­ings. Last month, Honda be­gan us­ing Face­book to track down own­ers and send warn­ings. It re­leased an in­ter­net video fea­tur­ing the tes­ti­mony of a woman who nearly lost an eye when the air bag in her 2002 Civic ex­ploded. It says it has made 150 mil­lion out­reach at­tempts to own­ers.

Honda spokesman Chris Martin says the com­pany has been us­ing parts from other auto sup­pli­ers to make sure re­pairs are not slowed by Takata’s trou­bles. “On the parts side, we’ve been in pretty good shape for a while,” said Martin, re­fer­ring to early short­ages of parts that may have dis­cour­aged some own­ers from tak­ing their cars to deal­ers.

Honda, Fiat Chrysler and Toy­ota have had the most air bags re­called. The com­pa­nies all say they’ve made sub­stan­tial progress to­ward re­pairs, but ac­knowl­edge there is much to be done.

The Takata re­call is be­ing con­ducted in phases that tar­get the most vul­ner­a­ble cars in hu­mid cli­mates in the south­east­ern United States. Michi­gan is among the low­est-pri­or­ity states in the re­call.

Chris Free­man, Takata cam­paign man­ager for Fiat Chrysler Au­to­mo­biles — which NHTSA says has about 8.7 mil­lion in­fla­tors im­pacted by the re­call — said his com­pany has com­pleted 49 per­cent of its high­est-pri­or­ity re­pairs. He said Fiat Chrysler is con­fi­dent it has enough parts to com­plete the re­quired re­pairs.

“We’re not in any way partschal­lenged,” Free­man said. “We’re not turn­ing cus­tomers away be­cause of any parts is­sue.”

Free­man said Fiat Chrysler has con­tracted with Uber to pro­vide rides for driv­ers who drop off their cars at deal­er­ships. He also said the com­pany has be­gun do­ing “mo­bile re­pairs” in which tech­ni­cians in vans drive to homes.

He said the lack of fa­mil­iar­ity among Amer­i­can driv­ers with Takata has pre­sented chal­lenges in con­vinc­ing them of the ur­gency of get­ting their cars fixed. “Peo­ple don’t know and un­der­stand what Takata is,” he said. “If I said you had a Takata re­call, it wouldn’t be nearly as ef­fec­tive as if I say you have an air bag re­call.”

Vic­tor Vanov, a spokesman for Toy­ota, which has about 5 mil­lion cars im­pacted by the re­call, said the au­tomaker has com­pleted about 68 per­cent of its re­pairs for the top-three high­est-pri­or­ity groups iden­ti­fied by fed­eral reg­u­la­tors.

“For us, we have the parts, it’s just a mat­ter of get­ting folks to come and get it re­placed,” he said. “We have a steady flow of parts com­ing in, it’s just a mat­ter of get­ting cus­tomers to come in and get the re­pairs done, which takes less than an hour.”

Vanov said Toy­ota has launched an “ac­tive re­call” sys­tem al­low­ing driv­ers who take their cars to af­ter­mar­ket re­pair shops to be no­ti­fied of open re­calls. He said the sys­tem has been in­stalled in 25,000 lo­ca­tions in the U.S.

NHTSA did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

The fed­eral agency re­leased a re­port from an in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tor in Novem­ber that found re­pair com­ple­tion rates vary widely by man­u­fac­turer, re­flect­ing un­even ef­forts on their part. Au­tomak­ers with the best com­ple­tion rates by the end of Oc­to­ber in­cluded Tesla (78.6 per­cent of re­pairs com­pleted), Honda/Acura (64.8 per­cent), Subaru (50.2 per­cent) and Gen­eral Mo­tors (46.3 per­cent). Those with the worst com­ple­tion rates in­cluded Mer­cedes-Benz (2.2 per­cent of re­pairs com­pleted), Mit­subishi (23 per­cent) and Mazda (27.1 per­cent).

The in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tor is­sued a se­ries of rec­om­men­da­tions for au­tomak­ers to boost com­ple­tion rates, in­clud­ing pur­su­ing dif­fer­ent av­enues in which own­ers are con­tacted at least once a month with “clear, ac­cu­rate and ur­gent mes­sag­ing in order to con­vey the risk th­ese de­fec­tive air bag in­fla­tors pose.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Nel­son, D-Fla., a fre­quent critic of NHTSA and Takata, said the fed­eral agency will not be able to force au­tomak­ers to adopt the rec­om­men­da­tions un­til it has a full-time chief on the job. Nearly 11 months after tak­ing of­fice, Trump has still not nom­i­nated a NHTSA ad­min­is­tra­tor.

“The in­de­pen­dent mon­i­tor has pro­vided good rec­om­men­da­tions to ramp up a truly co­or­di­nated re­sponse to the Takata air bag re­call, such as much more in­di­vid­u­ally tar­geted out­reach to driv­ers that still have th­ese de­fec­tive air bags in their ve­hi­cles,” Nel­son said. “But no one at NHTSA is ac­tu­ally forc­ing Takata or the au­tomak­ers to do th­ese things, or even meet the fairly low re­call-met­rics that the agency it­self es­tab­lished. NHTSA needs to start bar­ing its teeth, and fin­ing com­pa­nies that don’t meet dead­lines. If they don’t, this is just go­ing to con­tinue to mud­dle on for­ever.”

David Fried­man, di­rec­tor of cars and prod­uct pol­icy and anal­y­sis for Con­sumers Union and a for­mer deputy and act­ing NHTSA ad­min­is­tra­tor, agreed that au­tomak­ers have not done enough to reach at-risk driv­ers, although he ac­knowl­edged the ef­forts of com­pa­nies like Honda to go door-to-door when nec­es­sary.

Fried­man said au­tomak­ers should be “us­ing the same tech­niques they use to sell cars” to con­vince driv­ers they are in dan­ger.

“Th­ese com­pa­nies are filled with peo­ple who are ex­perts in how to mo­ti­vate peo­ple to do things,” he said. “They know how to do this stuff. The ques­tion is, are they will­ing to?”

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