- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) - A top executive says Takata Corp. is encouraging automakers to replace defective air bag inflators with newly designed ones from the company, or with those made by competitors that don’t include a volatile chemical.

The defect is linked to at least six deaths and more than 100 injuries.

Kevin Kennedy, executive vice president of North America for Takata Corp., will also tell Congress the company “deeply” regrets every rupture episode involving its air bags, especially those causing injury or death. Kennedy says in written testimony for a U.S. House hearing Tuesday that the percentage of air bag inflators likely to have a problem is “extremely small” but Takata is replacing all of them.

The company has declared 33.8 million air bags defective in an agreement with U.S. regulators. It’s the biggest auto-safety recall in U.S. history.

Takata uses the chemical, ammonium nitrate, to inflate the air bags. It can explode with too much force, blowing apart a metal inflator and sending shrapnel into the passenger compartment.

In replacing many faulty air bags, Takata is looking to make air bag inflators with a new design that use ammonium nitrate, or to use inflators made by rival suppliers which don’t use the chemical, Kennedy said.

“We are working with our automaker partners to transition to newer versions of driver inflators in our replacement kits, or inflators made by other suppliers that do not contain ammonium nitrate propellant,” Kennedy said in testimony prepared for a House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee.

Already, half the replacements that Takata shipped to automakers last month had inflators made by its competitors, Kennedy said. By year’s end, he said, that is expected to reach about 70 percent.

The Takata air bag problems began surfacing about a decade ago.

Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the auto industry are still trying to determine exactly what is causing Takata’s inflators to explode, the agency said last week it decided the recall action needed to be taken immediately to protect the public.

Kennedy said there have been fewer than nine failures causing air bag ruptures in the U.S. out of every 100,000 air bag deployments. Most of them occurred in parts of the country with high heat and humidity, he said.

“It is unacceptable to us and incompatible with our safety mission for even one of our products to fail to perform as intended and to put people at risk,” Kelly said in his written testimony.

Takata’s agreement with NHTSA adds more than 18 million air bags to existing recalls, covering both the passenger and driver’s side.

The agency sparred with Takata for the past year over the size of the recalls and the cause of the problem. For the most part, the air bag maker refused to declare the inflators defective and even questioned NHTSA’s authority to order it to conduct a recall.

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This story has been corrected to show Takata is encouraging use of its newly designed air bag inflators or those made by rivals without ammonium nitrate, not replacing the chemical altogether.

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