June 3, 2015

Redesign comes after 6 deaths and hundreds of injuries linked to defective airbags

Takata-Logo-600Less than two weeks after doubling its nationwide recall to 34 million vehicles, Takata has informed federal regulators it will no longer use ammonium nitrate in the design of its airbag inflators.  Kevin Kennedy, a Takata executive, informed federal regulators in writing before his scheduled testimony on Tuesday the company will no longer use ammonium nitrate in its airbags.  Since 2008, six people have died and over 100 severely injured allegedly caused by Takata airbags exploding upon deployment.

The move to end using ammonium nitrate comes after Takata battled with federal regulators for months over whether or not to issue a recall of vehicles with defective airbags.  The Takata airbags recall is now the largest auto recall in history. The ammonium nitrate used to inflate Takata’s airbags is at the heart of the investigation, particularly how much Takata may have known about the chemical’s ability to become unstable.

Ammonium nitrate is essentially a chemical explosive but has uses in a wide variety of industrial applications, including fertilizers.  Reports suggest despite understanding the volatile nature of ammonium nitrate, Takata executive and engineers were confident the chemical could be kept in a safe, stable form suitable for use as a rapidly deploying airbag inflator propellant.  Former Takata engineers and researchers have come out to say they voiced their concerns over using ammonium nitrate decades ago yet the company proceeded with the incorporation of the chemical in its airbag systems.

While Takata blamed high temperatures and moisture seeping into the airbag inflator housing as the cause of the destabilization of the chemical, allegations have emerged that Takata knew for years ammonium nitrate was an unsuitable choice of propellant for airbag inflators.  Takata issued a smaller, four state, recall back in 2014 for vehicles equipped with its airbags but stopped short of issuing a nationwide recall despite pressure from federal authorities.