U.S. regulators investigating failures of Takata Corp. air bags are preparing for a legal fight in case the Japanese parts maker doesn’t comply with a request to expand a recall.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working as quickly as possible to sort through tens of thousands of pages of documents from Takata, Honda Motor Co., and other automakers to build its case, David Friedman, the agency’s deputy administrator, said in an interview.
“This is a serious safety issue, and Takata needs to move forward,” Friedman said in a Dec. 12 interview. “If Takata fights us all the way to the end, I want to be able to walk into a courtroom with as close to a slam dunk as I can get.”
Takata rejected NHTSA’s request earlier this month for an expanded recall to replace drivers’ side air-bag inflators beyond about 8 million cars in high-humidity areas, where four motorists have died. The company says a recall is up to the automakers and even if it weren’t, regulators don’t have the safety data to support their decision.
NHTSA has cited data that shows humidity is less of factor than first thought in the malfunction risk for driver’s side air bags. NHTSA is hiring an independent expert to conduct more air- bag tests, Friedman said at a Dec. 3 Senate hearing.
In the interview, Friedman declined to commit to a timetable for the next step in the legal process to force a recall, which would be a formal declaration that the agency believes the air bags are defective.
Alby Berman, a spokesman for Takata in the U.S., said in an e-mailed statement that the company “is committed to working closely with NHTSA and the automakers to take all actions needed to promote public safety.”
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