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Takata fights nationwide recall for exploding airbags

Japanese manufacturer Takata is fighting demands by Congress for a nationwide recall of defective airbags linked to at least five deaths. The company maintains that the request is not supported by evidence and that Washington does not have the legal authority to make a parts maker enforce a recall. Judy Woodruff reports.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Air bag manufacturer Takata was back in the spotlight today over its refusal to endorse a nationwide recall of defective air bags. The Japanese firm faced questions on that decision and others in a hearing at the U.S. House of Representatives.

    The hearing came just hours after a deadline for Takata to expand its recall, as demanded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA.

    Deputy Administrator David Friedman.

  • DAVID FRIEDMAN, Deputy Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

    First of all, I was deeply disappointed by Takata's response and Takata's failure to take responsibility for the defects that their products — for the defects in their products.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The problem lies with inflators that activate so violently, they cause the air bags to explode. There have been at least five deaths and dozens of injuries linked to the defect worldwide.

    Takata Senior Vice President Hiroshi Shimizu insisted again today that only people who live in humid conditions are at risk.

  • HIROSHI SHIMIZU, Senior Vice President, Takata:

    The data still supports that we should remain focused on the region with high temperature and high humidity.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In line with that thinking, about eight million vehicles have been recalled in the U.S., mostly in Florida, Hawaii, and along the Gulf Coast. Takata says a nationwide recall would double that figure. The company remained adamant today that a nationwide recall isn't supported by the evidence.

    But NHTSA's Friedman pointed to reports of air bag explosions in other parts of the country.

  • DAVID FRIEDMAN:

    Between the fact that the root cause on the driver side is not clear, now that it's clear that it is outside those areas of high temperatures and high humidity, and the fact that we now have six total incidents, it is clear to us that a regional recall is no longer appropriate for the driver-side air bags.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The agency had threatened to take legal action and impose fines of up to $35 million unless Takata complied. But the air bag maker took the position today that Washington doesn't have the legal authority to make a parts maker enforce a recall. And Friedman acknowledged it could take a protracted fight.

  • DAVID FRIEDMAN:

    We need to make sure that we build the strongest case possible, because, at the end of the day, if Takata and the automakers continue to refuse to act, we are going to have to take them to court. We want to make sure we have a case prepared that will win.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    A number of lawmakers voiced frustration that even replacing the air bags recalled so far will take months to complete. And they let Takata's vice president know it.

    REP. FRED UPTON, (R) Michigan: Complexity is not an excuse for incompetence.

    REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY, (D) Illinois: I have received letters from constituents who are literally afraid to drive their cars. And this is unacceptable.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Across the Capitol, at a Senate confirmation hearing, the man nominated to run NHTSA, Mark Rosekind, was pressed to make the agency more aggressive.

  • Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey:

    SEN. EDWARD MARKEY, (D) Massachusetts: I guess what I can say you is, Dr. Rosekind, that you must make Takata recall all of these air bags. You must force the automobile companies to comply with a nationwide recall. There is no choice. The safety of the American people is at stake. Takata is toying with the safety of the American people.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But the weight of public opinion may be having some effect: Today, Honda, one of Takata's biggest customers, announced that it will expand its own recall of driver-side air bags to all 50 states.

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