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ACCC considers compulsory Takata airbag recall

Compromised Takata airbags could shoot metal shrapnel into vehicle cabins if deployed in a collision.

Car manufacturers have been slammed by the federal government’s small business minister for not doing enough to accelerate the replacement of almost 2.49 million defective Takata airbags and has prompted the consumer watchdog to begin Australia’s first compulsory vehicle recall.

The minister, Michael McCormack, has proposed the unprecedented course of action after only around 38 per cent (955,500) of affected vehicles have been repaired since recalls were first issued in 2009.

In addition to the existing 1.53 million vehicles still outstanding, the new recall would also encompass an additional 877,000 cars from brands including Volkswagen, Audi, Ford, Jaguar, Holden, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Tesla fitted with Takata airbags that were made in Freiberg, Germany, taking the total to almost 3.4 million Australian-delivered vehicles affected.

These are thought to be free from defect but Mr McCormack cited “six reported incidents of Takata airbag inflators manufactured in Freiberg rupturing” and that affected vehicles were part of a US recall.

The new move follows an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) statement in July urging consumers of 60 affected models of cars from BMW, Honda, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Lexus, Jeep, Nissan, Chrysler and Dodge to heed recall notices.

The urgency of this week’s call by the federal minister and the ACCC follows the death of a motorist in NSW in July whose airbag “misdeployed”, the ACCC said. A woman in the Northern Territory was severely injured in April from another airbag incident.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) disagrees with Mr McCormack’s hard-line approach however, saying in a statement that “we do not agree this needs to move to the next stage”.

“However, if this ACCC proposed recall notice addresses the complacency to act among some owners then this will be a benefit,” it said.

The FCAI said that all brands affected by the recall have been doing everything possible and that identifying and contacting owners – and not the ability to replace the airbags – is often the biggest hurdle.

Honda Australia has an active program to find and replace airbags and has already completed 80 per cent of its 650,000 affected vehicles.

Replacement rates include Mazda Australia with 39.6 per cent, including 73.3 per cent of the high-risk Alpha airbags.

Overall, the Alpha bags were fitted to 150,000 vehicles imported into Australia and, to date, 51,000 have been replaced.

However, the minister and the ACCC are concerned the industry repair rate average of 38 per cent is too low. The ACCC said one manufacturer – that was not named – had a recall average of only 17 per cent.

Mr McCormack said that “the actions taken have not resulted in a satisfactory rate of removal and replacement of defective Takata airbag inflators to prevent injury in vehicle occupants, despite the lengthy period during which voluntary recalls have been in place”.

The Takata airbag recall – the worlds biggest – involves more than 100 million vehicles. There have now been 19 confirmed deaths involving Takata airbags worldwide as well as over 207 reported injuries.

The fault in some Takata airbags involves the ammonium nitrate propellant which can, over time, degrade and upon deployment send metal shrapnel into the vehicle’s cabin.

Will a compulsory Takata recall be enough to fix the problem before someone else is injured? Tell us what you think in the comments below.