The world’s largest automotive recall action was the Takata airbag recall, involving as many as 30 million vehicles worldwide produced by 10 of the world’s biggest automakers. As long ago as 2004, the Japanese automotive supplier Takata, as well as its customer Honda, knew of the potential danger of Takata’s airbags—marketed for use in many makes and models of vehicles—exploding and injuring or drivers and passengers with metal shrapnel. The exploding airbags caused as many as 16 deaths and hundreds of injuries.
It wasn’t until 2013 that Takata acknowledged the problem, and by then the defective airbags had been installed in multiple brands of vehicles manufactured by BMW, Chrysler, Daimler Trucks, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota. In January 2017, Takata agreed to a $1 billion settlement with the U.S. Justice Dept., and three executives faced criminal charges. The company later filed for bankruptcy.
In November, the independent monitor overseeing the Takata recall reported that nearly two-thirds of the U.S. vehicles containing defective airbag inflators made by Takata Corp.—up to 20 million vehicles—have not been repaired. According to Consumer Reports, only a few of the automakers involved in the recall are aggressively pursuing effective strategies for bringing vehicle owners in for replacing or repairing their Takata airbags. “Recalling these inflators requires a substantial dedication of resources and planning by vehicle manufacturers to ensure that recall efforts remain effective on a national scale,” the report said.
Some automakers were making genuine efforts, “leveraging social media channels, translating recall letters into Spanish and even going door-to-door to find cars with defective airbags,” while others “seemed to be doing little more than what was required by the letter of the law and leaving it at that. “ The five companies with the lowest percentage of recalls completed are Mercedes Benz (2 percent), Mitsubishi (23 percent), Mazda (28 percent), BMW (29 percent) and Fiat Chrysler (30 percent). Automakers with the best completion rates at the end of October include Honda (65 percent), Subaru (50 percent), GM (46 percent), and Toyota (46 percent). Tesla, which has a smaller population of cars with Takata airbags installed, has repaired 79 percent.
“As of today,” wrote Consumer Reports in November 2017, “there are 46 million airbag inflators under recall in 34 million vehicles. … As the recall program drags on years after the first airbag recall was issued, a frustratingly large number of cars remain on the road with potentially explosive and fatal Takata airbags.”
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