WASHINGTON/TOKYO : Executives from Japan\'s Takata Corp and two automakers will face tough questions from US senators on Thursday over the risk of millions of potentially defective air bags that can rupture upon deployment, shooting metal shards into cars. Automakers, regulators and Takata - which supplies one in five air bags globally - have yet to pinpoint why these air bags are at risk. One theory is that moisture in humid climates can make the air bag inflator\'s chemical mix more volatile, even years after installation. That thinking could be tested later on Thursday as two US Senators have called a news conference with the sister of someone who died in a 2003 accident in Arizona - potentially a sixth fatality linked to Takata air bags. Arizona has a dry climate and has not been covered by a regional recall focusing on hot and humid areas. The Arizona death, and the first official confirmation that a Takata-made air bag killed a Florida woman in October, will likely be raised at a US Senate Commerce Committee hearing, where officials from Takata, Honda Motor and Chrysler will testify. The hearing would be the first intensive public airing of Takata\'s air bag problem in a move reminiscent of congressional grillings Toyota Motor and General Motors executives faced over their recall crises in recent years.
Key questions are whether Takata knew of and hid the air bag defects before alerting automakers and regulators; what it has been doing to get to the bottom of the problems; and whether a full nationwide recall is needed. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) this week told Takata and five automakers to expand nationwide the piecemeal regional recalls of driver-side air bags. Takata said it would cooperate if an expanded recall is required, but noted a national recall could divert resources from humid areas where replacement air bags are most needed. Takata and automakers say it will take time to work out how many more vehicles will need fixing - but it could be in the millions. Honda, Takata\'s biggest customer, alone accounts for 2.8 million cars in the regional recalls covering driver-side air bags to date, across 11 states. A total 4.1 million cars are subject to regional recalls including passenger-side air bags. Since 2008, around 16 million cars with Takata air bags have been recalled worldwide, with more than 10 million of those in the United States.
TAKATA INDISPENSABLE - FOR NOW Another question, particularly for drivers, is how quickly Takata can supply replacement parts. In filings with NHTSA on Wednesday, automakers including Honda and Toyota said they were looking into the option of getting air bag inflators from other companies, but most said that would take too long. BMW is backing Takata\'s efforts to shift inflator production to Germany from Mexico, and said it was not looking elsewhere for supply as it would take two years to approve a new source. Japan\'s transport ministry directs Takata to investigate air bag issue TOKYO: Japan\'s transport minister said on Friday that he had directed Takata Corp to investigate its defective air bags, adding that the ministry was directly in touch with the supplier over the issue. Japan\'s transport ministry usually works through automakers in recall matters but in this case was directly in touch with Takata, underscoring the severity of the matter. Transport Minister Akihiro Ohta also told a news conference that he was asking automakers to determine if it was necessary to widen the recall of air bags to Japan, given the U.S. regulator\'s order to widen regional recalls nationwide in the United States.