DETROIT: In August of 2009, after ruptured airbag inflators in Honda vehicles were linked to least four injuries and a death, the automaker quietly requested a design change and did not notify US regulators, Honda confirmed in response to inquiries from Reuters.
Honda Motor Co asked supplier Takata Corp to produce a “fail-safe” airbag inflator, according to Takata presentations and internal memos reviewed by Reuters.
The previously undisclosed redesign could make Honda and Takata more vulnerable in more than 100 pending federal lawsuits and dozens more state suits, according to several legal experts and an attorney suing the companies. The request shows that Honda understood the safety risks posed by the inflators long before it started expanding recalls by the millions in 2014, the attorneys and law professors said.
US law requires automakers to disclose safety risks and actions to prevent them to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). But Honda spokesman Chris Martin said the redesign did not require notice to regulators because the safety risk involved Takata manufacturing errors rather than a specific design defect.
Honda requested the redesign to “protect against the possibility of future manufacturing errors – it was not an acknowledgement of a larger design flaw in the inflators,” Martin wrote.
Honda started installing the modified inflators in some, but not all, vehicles in 2011 and continues to do so today, Martin said. Honda expanded recalls as it became aware of more defects, he said.
The fail-safe modification - outlined in Takata technical documents and internal presentations between 2009 and 2011 and confirmed by Honda - added vents in the inflator to channel pressure from an explosion away from a driver’s neck and torso.
NHTSA spokesman Bryan Thomas declined to comment on the design change or whether Honda had a legal obligation to notify the agency.
Takata confirmed in a statement that it “tested and deployed” several versions of the redesigned inflator “at the request of an automotive customer.” The supplier declined to answer more detailed questions and declined to respond to Honda’s explanation of the reasons for the change.
More time for BMW
BMW AG will get five more months to acquire Takata air bag replacement parts for a massive recall because tests showed some of the substitute inflators may also be defective.
The deadline for the German automaker was extended to Aug 31 because a replacement driver-side air bag inflator made by a supplier other than Takata failed during testing, the NHTSA said.
"NHTSA's priority continues to be ensuring that unsafe air bag inflators are replaced with safe ones," the agency said in a statement.
VW and Porsche recalls
Volkswagen and its Porsche unit said they were recalling more than 800,000 VW Touareg and Porsche Cayenne sports utility vehicles as a precautionary measure, to fix a potentially faulty component on the pedal mechanism.
The carmakers said 391,000 Touaregs and 409,477 Cayennes built between 2011 and 2016 would be recalled because "a circlip could be loose on the bearing bracket for pedals".