BUSINESS

Toyota promises to help find cause of Takata air bag defects

Associated Press

Toyota vowed to help pinpoint the cause of a defect in air bags used in more than 50 million vehicles worldwide, saying the auto industry risks losing the trust of car buyers if the problem drags on unresolved.

The air bags, made by Takata Corp. of Japan, can deploy with too much force, potentially causing injury or even death.

"Recalls are not just about technical problems. If there is a morsel of consumer doubt, then we have to deal with it," Toyota President Akio Toyoda said Thursday at a reception for the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Assn.

Takata this week agreed to a broader recall that doubled the number of air bags needing repair in the U.S. to 34 million. Toyota is one of 11 automakers recalling their vehicles.

Meanwhile, doubts are growing about whether the Japanese supplier has the financial muscle for such a large task. Producing enough replacement parts will take years.

The problem is with the air bags' inflators. A chemical inside can kick in with too much force, blowing apart the metal inflator and sending shards flying. The defect has caused at least six deaths and more than 100 injuries worldwide. Although exposure to moisture for extended periods appears to trigger the problem, the root cause is still unknown.

Japanese auto officials stressed Friday that each automaker has a stake in resolving the problem because of the potential dent in their reputation over safety concerns. And the automakers can't just dump Takata for another air bag supplier because certain car models were designed with the Takata air bags in mind.

Takata expects production of replacement inflators to be ramped up to 1 million a month by September. Even so, automakers including Toyota and Honda have been lining up other suppliers to make inflators. Honda is Takata's largest customer for air bags.

Toyota and other automakers such as BMW, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. have hired Orbital ATK, an aerospace and defense technology company based in Dulles, Va., to conduct testing on Takata air bags. Some companies are separately doing their own testing, as is Takata and the U.S. government.

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