At least four automakers — Toyota, Volkswagen, Fiat Chrysler, and Mitsubishi — continue to sell new vehicles with defective Takata air bags that will need to be recalled, according to a Senate Commerce Committee report released Wednesday.
The report underscores the convoluted way in which the mass recalls of Takata air bags have unfolded, with new models still being fitted with defective air bags and, in some cases, recalled cars also receiving defective air bags.
At least 13 deaths worldwide have been linked to the defective air bags, whose inner workings are sensitive to moisture and can rupture, sending shrapnel flying toward the car’s passengers. The defect has also been linked to more than 100 injuries, many of them critical.
Fourteen automakers are recalling more than 60 million vehicles to fix the defect in the biggest and most complex recall in automotive history.
“What’s troubling here is that consumers are buying new cars not realizing they’re going to be recalled,” said Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, who compiled the report. “These cars shouldn’t be sold until they’re fixed.”
At the root of the problem is a compound called ammonium nitrate, which helps generate the gases that inflate the air bag. Ammonium nitrate breaks down over time when it is exposed to moisture or temperature swings and, when activated, can cause its metal casing to disintegrate.
Takata is the only major air bag maker that uses the compound in its driver and passenger-side air bags.
Takata have been barred by auto safety regulators from entering into any new contracts for air bags that use ammonium nitrate and must phase out existing contracts.
Still, they remain free to equip model years already in production with the defective Takata air bags, including an older version of the air bag that does not contain a drying agent that helps protect their interior from damaging moisture.
Those cars, however, would need to be recalled by 2018 under a schedule laid out in a consent order issued by federal auto safety regulators.
Toyota and Fiat Chrysler refused to name the new models that contained the riskier air bags. The Japanese automaker told the committee that it expected to produce about 175,000 cars for the United States with the riskier Takata air bags through July 2017. Fiat Chrysler said at least one of its current models contained a passenger-side air bag with the riskier Takata air bag model.
Volkswagen said that its 2016 Volkswagen CC, as well as the 2016 Audi TT and 2017 Audi R8 models made by its Audi brand, contained the riskier Takata air bags. Mitsubishi said that the 2016 and 2017 model years of its i-MiEV electric vehicle contained the riskier air bags.
Safety regulators have said that newer air bag models with ammonium nitrate that also contain a drying agent are safer. It is unclear, however, whether the drying agent solves the problem or whether the ammonium nitrate in those models will also eventually break down.
Five automakers, including Honda, Nissan, and Ford, sell new models that contain air bags that use ammonium nitrate and have the drying agent, according to the Senate report.
Automakers have said they are moving away from Takata air bags that use ammonium nitrate.
Yet the report also said that 11 automakers have replaced more than 2.1 million older Takata air bags with newer versions that would also need to be replaced.
The newer versions are considered safer for now — while new permanent replacements are being made — because it takes time for ammonium nitrate to break down.