The continuing tragedy that is the Takata airbag issue has taken a turn for the worse. Michigan-based Ford Motor Co. announced Friday that it’s expanding its list of recalled vehicles to include the popular Ranger model pick-up. The Ford Ranger recall comes after tenth Takata airbag death.
Ford made the announcement shortly after its officials, along with those from Takata and NHTSA, inspected a 2006 Ranger that was involved in a fatality in South Carolina on December 22. Driver Joel Knight hit a stray cow on the highway. Rather than being merely sore, the 52-year old welder died when his Takata driver-side airbag deployed with such force that investigators initially thought Knight was the victim of a fatal shooting. Mr. Knight bled to death.
According to Knight’s widow, Ann Knight, “If he’d have known [about the defect], he’d have gotten it fixed. He took good care of that truck. Now something that was supposed to save him killed him.” At the time of Knight’s accident, Ford Rangers were not under recall for driver-side airbags. Those Rangers that were under recall before Friday’s announcement were being recalled due to defective passenger-side airbags.
This latest fatality brings the global count to ten, nine in the U.S. and one – a pregnant woman – in Malaysia. Knight is the first Takata airbag-related fatality in a non-Honda vehicle. NHTSA is expected to expand recalls by around 5M vehicles, bringing the U.S. total to 28M. Ford is the first automaker to announce an expanded recall after NHTSA’s Friday decision.
This latest recall affects 391,354 Ford Rangers model years 2004 – 2006, built in North America. There are 361,692 recalled Rangers in the U.S. and U.S. territories, with the remaining 29,334 in Canada.
The issue with Takata’s airbags is the inflators. They’re propellant-filled metal cartridges that react badly to repeated exposure to moisture. The cartridges tend to explode with much greater force than the original design specifies and propel shrapnel into the vehicle cabin similar in effect to a Claymore anti-personnel mine.
As I sat writing this piece, I pondered why we don’t just recall every vehicle that has a Takata inflator. Apparently, I’m not the only one to ponder this question. I just received e-mail from Care for Crash Victims, a project whose mission is to “improve care for crash victims before, during, and after a crash.”
The e-mail announced a joint effort involving Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) that was just released today. The senators wrote a strongly worded letter to President Obama requesting a full recall of every vehicle with airbags that have ammonium nitrate as the propellant. This compound, used only in Takata airbags, becomes volatile when repeatedly exposed to moisture.
In part, the letter says: “It appears that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has consistently deferred to Takata as it set forth its requirements to industry, first by allowing many automakers to take voluntary rather than mandatory actions to alert vehicle-owners to this defect’s existence, then by limiting the recalls to cars registered in ‘high humidity’ states absent evidence that the defect would not manifest itself outside these arbitrary boundaries, and now with its apparent policy of waiting until someone has died in a particular make and model before recalling that make and model. This, coupled with NHTSA’s willingness to allow Takata to take until the end of 2018 to prove that ammonium nitrate is safe in existing airbags; and until 2019 to show that the latest models of the inflators that use the compound are safe, is an outrageous dereliction of NHTSA’s basic duty to protect consumers.”
U.S. officials aren’t the only ones reacting strongly to the Takata airbag crisis. Takata Corp. itself is gearing up to replace its CEO, Shigehisa Takada and other top executives. Takada is the company founder’s grandson and the family currently owns 58% of the company’s shares.
The overall feeling is that Takata will be unable to regain the trust of the auto industry unless its current management accepts full responsibility for the crisis and steps down. The company has teamed up with competitor Daicel Corp. to manufacture airbags for the recalled vehicles. Takata’s stock value has dropped 80% since the crisis began two years ago.