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Takata Air Bag Recall Could Be Tough For Auto Industry To Weather


The government wants car companies to expand an airbag recall. The recall currently involves millions of cars which have driver-side air bags made by Takata, a Japanese supplier. The airbags can send metal shards flying at occupants. It's a dangerous problem that goes back nearly a dozen years. Several investigations are pending, and five deaths have been linked to the defect. And as NPR's Sonari Glinton reports from Los Angeles, it's unclear how soon the industry can fix the issue.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: I'm at the LA auto show, and this is the time when the auto industry goes to great lengths to talk about their new cars. The problem is, the old cars keep grabbing all the headlines. Brian Moody with autotrader.com says that puts pressure on the industry.

BRIAN MOODY: The pressure is to get more done at a faster pace for a lower price.

GLINTON: Moody says that pressure is behind most of the problems in the car business in the last two decades, and it could be a problem with solving the Takata recall issue. The recall had been limited to hot, humid parts of the country, and it was thought that heat and humidity could cause the problem. The government wants that expanded to all the country, hot or not. Moody says identifying the problem and expanding the recall is just the beginning.

MOODY: Manufacturing things takes time. They have to be built in the physical world, and they take a certain amount of time to do that. So you can ramp it up to a certain degree, but you have to still be profitable. So you have these things competing for each other.

GLINTON: Meanwhile, Jessica Caldwell says car companies are working extra hard to appear to be proactive and to control the damage of this year of recall. She says the number of car companies and the number of cars makes this particular one difficult.

JESSICA CALDWELL: You know, really, the reality - I mean also getting the customers notified, getting them to come in to the dealership themselves, getting the car fixed - it's a process. And as smooth as I think they'd like it to run, of course there's going to be tons of hiccups.

GLINTON: It's important to note that there aren't dozens of airbag companies. There are just three major players. That means millions of old airbags that need to be produced, while almost as many new airbags for new cars need to be made. Caldwell says the industry is running leaner than it's been in decades, and she says this latest round of recalls comes at a logistically tough time, the holidays.

CALDWELL: Which is a big new car sales push for a lot of automakers. This is really an important time. So I think getting - you know, getting the cars out, getting the message, making sure there's inventory for that is also a pressure, too, that they have to manage.

GLINTON: While they manage, you can check to see if your car is covered in this or other recalls at recalls.gov. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.
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