We now have record recalls with Takata leading the field. The number of cars that have been recalled because of faulty Takata-built airbag inflators is staggering just in North America alone.
There have been 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries in the U.S. and others around the world tied to ruptured airbags, but the potential for more deaths and injuries is huge because over the years so many auto makers have installed the same type of inflators from Takata.
A couple of weeks ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ordered that up to 40 million more Takata airbag inflators be added to the recall list, figuring that as those airbags age they eventually could become as prone to malfunction as the Takata devices already recalled.
The Takata recalls keep getting bigger and bigger and keep pulling more and more auto makers and suppliers into the fray. Even years after the first recalls of cars with Takata airbag inflators that could malfunction and spray metal fragments toward drivers and passengers, there are lots of questions and not enough answers.
Can Takata survive? Not even the company knows yet, and it's exploring restructuring or selling off divisions.
If not Takata, which companies will make the replacement parts that millions of vehicles desperately need? Auto makers already are using Takata competitors, including Autoliv, Daicel and TRW, to make most of the repair parts.
How long will it take? Under Administrator Mark Rosekind, NHTSA has set up a priority system for replacing airbags so the ones most likely to fail—those in regions with high temperatures and humidity—are fixed first.
That schedule runs through 2019, but it's anyone's guess how long it will take to replace tens of millions of airbags. At best, it will be years to get the parts to dealers.
There has never been a series of recalls that even approached this magnitude. When it's a life-threatening situation, it's a lot different from a misplaced label.
These are uncharted waters. As the scope of the Takata mess has slowly emerged, the auto industry and regulators have addressed it piece by piece, but it's not over yet.
It's a befuddling issue, but one that must be solved.
Keith Crain is chairman of Crain Communications, which publishes Rubber & Plastics News.