March 7, 2018 / 8:53 PM / 10 days ago

U.S. senators call new hearing on Takata auto air bag inflators

WASHINGTON, March 7 (Reuters) - U.S. Senators will convene a previously undisclosed hearing to focus on the status of Takata air bag inflator recalls, the largest, most complex recall process in auto history that some lawmakers say is too slow.

March 20 is the tentative hearing date for the U.S. Senate Commerce subcommittee that oversees the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), committee officials said.

Takata said in June that it has recalled, or expected to recall, about 125 million vehicles worldwide by 2019, including more than 60 million in the United States in vehicles built by 19 automakers.

At least 22 deaths and hundreds of injuries worldwide are linked to the Takata inflators that can explode with excessive force, unleashing metal shrapnel inside cars and trucks. The defect led Takata to file for bankruptcy protection in June.

Under the bankruptcy plan, Takata is selling its non-air bag inflator businesses to Key Safety Systems, a unit of China’s Ningo Joyson Electric Corp.

The office of Senator Jerry Moran, the Republican who chairs the subcommittee, said that the hearing would examine the “current manufacturer recall completion rates, the Takata bankruptcy and transition to new ownership under Key Safety Systems, and what all stakeholders including NHTSA are doing to ensure this process continues to move forward.”

A spokesman for Takata did not immediately comment on Wednesday.

Senator Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the Commerce Committee, said in a statement he hopes “we’ll finally get a real plan to improve the still woeful recall completion rates.”

Nelson said “NHTSA, the independent monitor, and the automakers should all be asked to participate so we can get the numbers moving in the right direction.” Nelson asked 19 automakers in a letter on Feb. 27 to disclose details on the pace of fixing vehicles.

NHTSA says just over half of the 40 million inflators recalled to date have been replaced.

Takata pleaded guilty in 2017 single felony count of wire fraud to resolve a U.S. Justice Department investigation and agreed to a $1 billion settlement. The company is under the oversight of an independent monitor for three years.

Last month, Ford Motor Co warned an additional 33,000 owners of older pickup trucks to stop driving them until Takata inflators can be replaced after a second death in a 2006 Ford Ranger caused by a defective Takata inflator was reported. The other 20 deaths have occurred in Honda Motor Co vehicles. (Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Grant McCool)

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