Japan's Takata Corp. has defied an order from the United States government to expand its recall of defective air bags nationwide.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has chided the Japanese company for its inadequate response regarding the air bags, which can explode and shoot out shrapnel. According to the Associated Press, Takata's defiance has set the stage for a legal showdown and left drivers wondering about the safety of their cars.
"There's not enough scientific evidence to change from a regional recall to a national recall," said Hiroshi Shimizu, Takata senior vice president of global quality assurance.
Shimizu made those comments at a House subcommittee on Capitol Hill. He insisted that NHTSA only has the authority to order recalls from auto manufacturers and replacement part makers, not from original parts suppliers like his company.
"I would drive a car with a Takata air bag," Shimizu said in regards to the safety of Takata's air bags.
The Associated Press reported that over the past six years, Takata and 10 automakers issued a series of recalls that covered 8 million cars in the U.S., mostly in high-humidity areas such as the American South. However, NHTSA pushed for a coast-to-coast recall after incidents involving the air bags popped up in North Carolina and California, which Takata rejected outright.
NHTSA deputy administrator David Friedman told lawmakers that he was "deeply disappointed" by Takata's response, noting that "a regional recall is no longer appropriate for the driver's side air bags."
"It's time for the industry to stand up," Friedman said. "Until (Takata) and automakers act, affected drivers won't be protected."
The government agency is now trying to gather proof that a recall is need and will make the case for it at a public hearing, according to the Associated Press. Although the process could take months, the recalls that NHTSA is demanding would involve air bags on the driver's side.
Some car makers are taking one step ahead of the government agency. Christina Rogers of the Wall Street Journal reported that Honda Motor Co. will expand its U.S. recall of the driver's side air bag to all 50 states and is talking with other air bag suppliers to produce replacement parts.
"We believe our customers have concerns, and we want to satisfy our customers," said Rick Schostek, executive vice president of Honda North America, at a House panel hearing.
The Wall Street Journal noted that Takata's refusal to comply with the agency's request could cost them fines of up to $7,000 a day per vehicle. Friedman lamented that no one has found the root cause of the defective air bags in the first place.
"One of the most frustrating parts about this is that neither Takata, nor the auto makers, have been able to get to the bottom of the root cause of this," Friedman said.
Drivers should receive notices in the mail if their cars are part of the recall. The Associated Press noted that concerned drivers can check their vehicle's identification number at safercar.gov or call the dealer to see if the car is covered.
Toyota Motor Corp said on Thursday it would call back 190,000 more vehicles to replace potentially defective air bags made by Takata Corp, according to Associated Press.
Last month, a Takta-made air bag inflator in a 2003-model Toyota subcompact exploded at a scrapyard in Japan, which prompted Toyota's recall, though the case of the problem is still unknown, said the transport ministry, which also acts as the auto industry regulator.
Toyota said it would recall 185,000 vehicles across 19 models including the Corolla and Alphard in Japan, and 5,000 in China, as a preventative measure and to investigate the cause. The vehicles subject to the recall were produced between September 2002 and December 2003.