A senior Takata Corp. executive on Wednesday defended the company's rejection of a broader recall for its potentially deadly airbags, insisting that testing data did not back such an action.
Hiroshi Shimizu, senior vice president at the Japanese auto parts maker, confirmed at a Congressional hearing that Takata did not agree with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's November 26 demand for a recall of all cars in the US with the suspect Takata airbags on the driver's side.
The NHTSA had given Takata until Tuesday night to broaden the existing recall, limited only to cars in hot and humid areas, saying the airbags pose dangers in cars everywhere.
Facing the risk of a fine of up to $35 million, Takata rejected the call in a letter to the NHTSA Tuesday.
Takata airbags have been shown to release with overly explosive force that can send shrapnel into a car's passengers, with at least five deaths linked to the problem.
The company and investigators have identified several causes of the problem, which dates at least to 2008. Takata has blamed manufacturing problems which it says it has resolved for new production.
Shimizu told the hearing of a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the company's recent testing of thousands of airbag inflators has only showed problems with passenger-side airbags.
"Based on the data currently available and our best engineering judgment, Takata continues to believe that the public safety is best served if the identified areas of high absolute humidity remain the priority for the replacement of suspect inflators."
Shimizu said in recent months the company has tested around 4,000 airbags, most of them passenger-side equipment. Of those they have detected inflator ruptures in about 60 passenger-side airbags, and none in driver-side airbags.
"Based on the data we are collecting... the data still supports that we should remain focused on the regions with high temperature and high humidity," Shimizu said.
He said all the "anomalies" shown in testing come from airbags in cars in Florida and Puerto Rico, both hot and humid climates.
Nevertheless, Honda North America Executive Vice President Rick Schostek said the automaker is "seriously considering" issuing a nationwide recall of all Takata-equipped Hondas.
At the same time, Schostek admitted, "Should there be an expansion to a nationwide action, we believe that a parts shortage may occur despite Takata's efforts to increase the supply of inflators."
He said Honda is discussing using substitute inflators from other manufacturers to fill the shortfall.
"We still believe that the highest risk is in the southern areas," he said.