An estimated 33.8 million vehicles are defective thanks to Japanese air bag manufacturer Takata Corp. it was announced Tuesday. The company acknowledged wide-ranging problems with its airbags in a move that is expected to lead to the largest U.S. recall of any consumer product, surpassing the 1982 recall of 31 million bottles of Tylenol following a poison scare.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx confirmed the decision by Takata. The sweeping announcement is a major victory for the National Highway Safety Administration, which has been pressing Takata since November to declare millions of vehicles defective.
The faulty bags are linked to at least six deaths and more than 100 injuries. The issue is caused when propellant explodes with too much force and sends dangerous metal shrapnel flying like a bomb. Officials link the problem to high humidity and moisture, though the precise root cause is still not known.
Takata will announce it has filed four defect information reports with U.S. auto safety officials declaring that 33.8 million vehicles with both driver and passenger airbag inflators are defective. The news follows the 13 million vehcile that have been recalled since 2003 over similar issues, which Automakers recalled vehicles even as Takata refused to admit the parts were defective.
The total number of vehicles impacted could be even higher but vehicle owners will not know for days whether their vehicles are affected.
10 automakers — BMW AG, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Honda Motor Co., Mazda Motor Co., Mitsubishi, Nissan Motor Co., Subaru Motors USA and Toyota Motor Corp. — launched an industry-wide joint testing initiative to determine which of their models are affected.
The announcement came as NHTSA was preparing to demand that Takata declare the bags defective, but NHTSA Administrator Rosekind praised Takata for making the decision.
"Today is a major step forward for public safety," Foxx said Tuesday. "The Department of Transportation is taking the proactive steps necessary to ensure that defective inflators are replaced with safe ones as quickly as possible, and that the highest risks are addressed first. We will not stop our work until every air bag is replaced."
Possible fines and other sanctions remain some time away, as the exact root cause if being determined and a final tally of the damage is calculated.