DETROIT – Add a U.S. Senate committee hearing to the growing list of troubles facing Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp.
The full Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing for Nov. 20 in Washington that likely will feature company representatives and officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the government’s auto safety agency.
The hearing, announced Thursday, comes as Takata disclosed that it is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department over air bags that can explode with too much force and send metal shrapnel into the passenger compartment. Four deaths in the U.S. have been blamed on the problem. A fifth, which occurred last summer in Malaysia, was disclosed on Thursday.
Ten different automakers have recalled nearly 8 million U.S. vehicles in the past year because of the problem. But many of the recalls have been limited to high-humidity areas in Southern states and U.S. territories. Several lawmakers have called for a national recall, but NHTSA and Takata have said the problem has only surfaced in areas with average dew points above 60 degrees.
The company has said that airborne moisture can cause the air bag propellant to explode with greater force than designed, blowing apart metal canisters that hold the air bags.
U.S. safety regulators and the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York City are looking into whether Takata failed to disclose information to the government about the air bag problems. Takata has said it is co-operating with NHTSA.
Takata spokesman Alby Berman on Thursday confirmed that the company has received a general subpoena from a federal grand jury in New York.
The Senate hearing will be chaired by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, and will examine how Takata air bags were installed in so many vehicles, as well as the response of automakers and NHTSA to fix the problem. As many as 37.8 million vehicles in the U.S. have been built with Takata air bags since the 2001 model year.
Two sessions are likely, one with Takata representatives and another with officials from the government safety agency. A full list of those testifying was not released Thursday.
Automakers replacing air bags include Nissan, Chrysler, Ford, Mazda, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Toyota, BMW and General Motors.
Last week, Chrysler said in documents filed with NHTSA that it would replace the air bags in more than 371,000 older vehicles in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Models include Ram pickups, Dodge Aspens, Chrysler 300s, Dodge Chargers, Dodge Magnums and the 2007 Dodge Dakota and Mitsubishi Raider pickups.