DETROIT - Japanese auto parts maker Takata Corp. is forming a panel to audit its manufacturing and come up with ways to make safe air bag inflators, but the company's response to a U.S. demand for a national inflator recall remains unclear.
Takata, which faces a midnight deadline to comply with the demand, issued a statement Tuesday detailing a Quality Assurance Panel chaired by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner. The panel will have all the resources necessary to audit Takata's manufacturing processes and develop best practices to make inflators, the statement said. It will issue a report that will be made public.
The company also pledged to increase production of replacement inflators to satisfy growing recalls and to do more tests to find the exact cause of why the inflators can explode with too much force, sending shrapnel into cars and injuring people. At least five deaths have been linked to the problem worldwide.
But the statement didn't clearly say whether Takata will comply with a demand from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to declare driver's air bag inflators defective and expand a recall from high-humidity areas to the entire country. The company has until midnight to meet the demand or face civil fines and legal action.
The statement says Takata recognizes that NHTSA is urging the expanded recall and says the company will co-operate, but it seems to place the recall decision on automakers. "We will take all actions needed to advance the goal of safety for the driving public, including working to produce additional replacement units to support any further recalls that may be announced by our customers," the company said.
A company spokesman did not return email and telephone messages seeking clarification.
The government's demand for the national recall covers vehicles made by Ford, Honda, Chrysler, Mazda and BMW, generally from the 2008 model year and earlier.
Recalls announced earlier in the year covered only high-humidity states in the South, plus Hawaii and some territories. But NHTSA pointed to two incidents outside the recall zone in demanding a national recall of driver's inflators. Airborne moisture can get into the air bag propellant, ammonium nitrate, and cause it to burn faster than designed. That can blow apart the metal inflator canister and spew fragments.
On Monday, Takata complied with a NHTSA request for information on the inflators. The company's statement says it has collected more than 20 terabytes of data and is producing more than 360,000 pages of documents for the agency.
Earlier Tuesday, NHTSA posted recall announcements from two automakers that are expanding or adding recalls to fix Takata air bag inflators in high-humidity states.
Subaru is expanding a previous recall of five models. Mitsubishi is recalling one model, the 2004 and 2005 Lancer small car.
Previous recalls were limited to Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and several other territories. The new Subaru and Mitsubishi recalls now cover those areas as well as southern Georgia and coastal areas of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and South Carolina. Different automakers have different recall boundaries, and the government is trying to bring them all into line to avoid confusion.
The Subaru recall affects the 2003 to 2005 Outback, Legacy and Baja, as well as the 2004 and 2005 Impreza, and the 2005 Saab 9-2X made by Subaru. Neither Subaru nor Mitsubishi released numbers of vehicles covered.
NHTSA says two incidents outside the high-humidity zone justify the national driver's air bag recall. But the agency says it doesn't have data to warrant a national recall of passenger side air bags.