The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that over 2.8 million fatally flawed airbag inflators need to be added to the already-massive Takata recall. The vast majority of the devices are found in vehicles registered in the U.S.
The news comes just hours after Honda confirmed an 11th Takata-related death in one of its vehicles.
A quick recap
To date, Takata's inflators have been linked to 17 fatalities worldwide and more than 180 injuries. Most of those deaths have occurred in Honda vehicles in the U.S.
Though Takata has long insisted that its inflators are perfectly safe, it's clear that many of them aren't. The worse of the lot are those in which Takata used ammonium nitrate as a propellant.
Not only is ammonium nitrate a notoriously unstable compound, but it's also highly explosive. Research has shown that the combination of heat and humidity destabilizes the ammonium nitrate in many Takata airbag inflators, causing the compound to explode with unexpected force when airbags deploy. When that has happened, drivers and passengers have been pelted with hot shrapnel, frequently resulting in fatal injuries. (Takata later added a desiccant to its inflators in an attempt to absorb moisture and maintain the ammonium nitrate's integrity.)
Eventually, it's expected that 60 million Takata inflators will be recalled in the U.S. and 125 million worldwide. To date, 46.2 million of the devices have been recalled in America, including the notorious "Alpha" inflators that spawned harsh warnings from Honda, among others. Unfortunately, those warnings have largely fallen on deaf ears: over 65 percent of recalled Takata inflators in the U.S. haven't been replaced.
Then again, maybe that's to be expected: the Takata recall is the largest in automotive history, and it's been very, very complicated. It's been segmented geographically, with separate recalls for passenger-side and driver-side devices. For a time, it was plagued by a shortage of replacement parts, and occasionally, the parts on hand proved to be just as dangerous as those they replaced. NHTSA made matters worse by failing to act aggressively at the start of the crisis.
In February of this year, Takata finally admitted guilt to U.S. officials and agreed to a $1 billion settlement. In June, the company reluctantly filed for bankruptcy, and when it emerges from the restructuring, it's expected to be bought by its former competitor, Key Safety Systems.
The recalls announced this week center on driver-side airbags that were found to be dangerous in NHTSA tests. The inflators were manufactured by Takata between 2005 and 2012. Unlike the worst Takata inflators, these devices include a desiccant to reduce the effect of moisture on the ammonium nitrate propellant. However, NHSTA found that the inflators are still prone to explode, even with the added precaution.
The recalls will affect more than 2.8 million vehicles worldwide, including 2.2 million Ford models, 6,000 Mazda B-Series pickups, and 627,000 Nissan Versas from the 2007 to 2012 model years. The vast majority of vehicles affected by the new recalls are registered in the U.S.
Specifics about these recalls haven't yet been published by Ford, Mazda, Nissan, or NHTSA. We'll post additional information about them as they become available.