Takata faces congressional committee over faulty air bags

In 2002 Honda introduced new, rapidly deploying side curtain airbag that protects vehicle occupants from head and neck injuries in the event of a side collision - image courtesy of Honda.
Ammonium nitrate was involved in most of the incidents involving faulty Takata airbags, which the airbags inflated with too much force, causing metal fragments to spray inside the vehicles.

Takata Corporation has faced criticism from the US Congress over the use of a volatile chemical in its airbag inflators which led to the biggest recall in US history.

Executive vice president of Takata’s North American affiliate, Kevin Kennedy, was grilled by members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on 2 June over the Japanese manufacturer’s use of ammonium nitrate as the primary propellant in its airbag inflators.

While under questioning, Kennedy defended the Japanese manufacturer’s use of ammonium nitrate, but said he expected the company’s use of the compound will decline as it shifts to another chemical.

“We have alternate propellants now with guanidine nitrate, we started production a year or two ago and we’re continuing to ramp those up,” he said.

“I think overall you will see our production of ammonium nitrate go down rapidly.”

Ammonium nitrate was involved in most of the incidents in which the airbags inflated with too much force, causing metal fragments to spray inside the vehicles.

So far six deaths have been linked to the airbag ruptures with at least 100 injured, forcing a mass recall of 34 million vehicles in the US.

During the hearing in which US Congress members pressed him on why the airbag defect went unresolved for so long,  Kennedy became the first Takata official to publicly acknowledge that ammonium nitrate was ‘one of the factors’ in the airbags rupturing.

Chair of this week’s House Energy and Commerce Committee and Texas Republican Congressman, Michael Burgess, couldn’t believe Takata was still using ammonium nitrate, despite the links to consumer deaths and injuries.

“They are still making an air bag with ammonium nitrate as a propellant without a desiccant and they’re putting that in replacement vehicles and new vehicles,” he said.

“It almost seems like there should be a warning label stamped on the car.”

Takata have been relying on competitors to help it replace defective airbags during the recall, with about half the replacement air bag kits shipped by Takata to automakers last month made by competitors.

Kennedy told the hearing that by the end of the year about 70% of replacement inflators would be built primarily by competitors TRW Automotive and Autoliv Inc, which use guanidine nitrate as the chief ingredient of their inflator propellant.