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NHTSA Prepares ‘Airtight’ Case Against Takata

December 18, 2014

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) previously said that it would bring Takata Corp. to court over the airbag recall crisis if it fails to comply with the agency’s request to expand the callback nationwide. Now, federal regulators are gearing up for the legal battle that will be inevitable if the Japanese supplier continues to refuse expanding the airbag recall.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman (pictured) told reporters on Tuesday that the agency is speeding up efforts to go through the tens of thousands of documents submitted by Takata and the other automakers involved in the recall to build what he called an “airtight” case.

“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,” Friedman said in a previous interview.

In late November, the NHTSA formally demanded Takata to issue a national airbag recall. Earlier this month, the parts maker rejected the order, insisting that expanding the callback nationwide would divert the replacement parts away from the high-humidity regions where these are most needed. Takata also said that a nationwide recall is up to the automakers.

Moreover, the company claimed that there is no sufficient evidence to prove an expanded recall is necessary.

However, safety regulators are not only going after Takata. Friedman said that they will force three automakers to recall approximately 5 million additional vehicles. These are Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC (which now goes by the name FCA US LLC) and BMW AG.

The NHTSA urged five automakers to expand what was initially a regional Takata airbag recall limited to U.S. states and territories with high humidity. To date, only Honda Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Co. complied with the agency’s request. Friedman lauded both Honda and Mazda for “doing the right thing.”

For the NHTSA to compel a recall, it must send a formal demand letter, respond to the automaker and call for a public hearing. In the event an automaker rejects the demand, the agency must file a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court. The entire process will take months or even years to be completed. Even regulators admit it will take a long time before they can demand Takata to do a national recall.

According to the Detroit News, the NHTSA only convened several public hearings in its history. It also has not obtained court orders forcing a recall by an automaker or supplier since the 1970s.

Photo credit: Senator Claire McCaskill/ Flickr/ CC BY-ND

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