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Takata taps new crash-bag explosive

2015-06-02 09:18

GLOBAL VEHICLE RECALL: Takata is at the centre of a global vehicle recall due to defective crash bags linked to several deaths. Now the company wants to replace the components. Image: AP / Shizuo Kambayashi

WASHINGTON, District of Columbia - A top executive says Takata is planning to replace the explosive chemical in its crash bags that has been linked to a defect responsible for at least six deaths and more than 100 injuries.

Kevin Kennedy, Takat's executive vice-president in North America, will also tell the US  Congress that the company "deeply" regrets every rupture episode involving its bags, especially those causing injury or death.

In a written testimony for a US House hearing he says the percentage of bag inflators likely to have a problem was "extremely small" but Takata was replacing them all.

BIGGEST RECALL YET

The company has declared 33.8-million bags defective, their host vehicles to be recalled - the biggest auto recall to date (June 2015).

The Takata air bag problems began about a decade eaerlier. The ammonium nitrate can explode with too much force, blowing apart a metal inflator and sending shrapnel into the cabin.

Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound composed of nitric acid and salt of ammonia.

According to Wikipedia, ammonium nitrate decomposes non-explosively into gases, including oxygen when heated; however, “ammonium nitrate can be induced to decompose explosively by detonation. Large stockpiles of the material can be a major fire risk due to their supporting oxidation, and may also detonate.".

A tragic example was the Texas City disaster of 1947 when 581 people were killed. This incident led to major changes in the regulations for the chemical's storage and handling. Since 1916, 1712 people have been killed in various incidents involving ammonium nitrate, plus another six due to Takata airbag explosion.

Takata's rivals use other propellants.

When heated, ammonium nitrate decomposes non-explosively into gases including oxygen; however, ammonium nitrate can be induced to decompose explosively by detonation. Large stockpiles of the material can be a major fire risk due to their supporting oxidation, and may also detonate, as happened in the Texas City disaster of 1947, which led to major changes in the regulations for storage and handling.

Kennedy said in testimony prepared for a House Energy and Commerce Committee sub-committee: "We are working with our automaker partners to transition to newer versions of inflators in our replacement kits, or inflators made by other suppliers that do not contain ammonium nitrate."

PUBLIC PROTECTION

Although the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the auto industry are still trying to determine exactly what is causing Takata's inflators to explode, the agency said in May 2015 it had decided the recall needed to be immediate immediately to protect the public.

Kennedy said there had been fewer than nine failures causing ruptures in the US out of every 100 000 bag deployments. Most occurred in parts of the US with high heat and humidity.

"It is unacceptable to us and incompatible with our safety mission for even one of our products to fail to perform as intended and to put people at risk," Kennedy said in his written testimony.

Takata's agreement with the NHTSA added more than 18-million cars to existing recalls, covering both front seats.

The agency had sparred with Takata for the previous year over the size of the recalls and the cause of the problem. For the most part, the bag-maker refused to declare the inflators defective and even questioned the NHTSA's authority to order it to conduct a recall.


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