Well, it’s official. After years of trying to pull out of the nosedive caused by their fatally defective airbags, Takata has officially filed for bankruptcy in both Tokyo and Delaware. This means the delay in getting the lethal machines off the road could not extend for years…if it can be addressed at all.
There is a glimmer of hope. While most of Takata’s assets will be sold to a, now, former rival, Takata will continue to operate a segment whose job it is to build replacement parts for the dangerous airbag inflators. But it’s a small glimmer of hope, simply because of the numbers involved. To date, 100 million defective airbags have been recalled. The vast majority of those — 69 million — are in the United States.
But, regardless of where they’re going, the industry can’t make the replacement parts fast enough to satisfy demand. That means millions are driving around with potentially defective airbags … and many don’t even know it. Those that do report extreme frustration with the process of trying to get their airbags replaced. They tell stories of being indefinitely put off for months, then years. Promises made but calls not returned.
By some of the most optimistic numbers, the airbags replacements for the final group of cars won’t be available until late in 2020, so that’s three more years of people driving around in dangerous cars. Meanwhile, it’s waiting lists and wondering.
Then there are those who aren’t on the list but wonder if they should be. They own a make and model that made the list, but they checked their VIN, and it came away clean. So, are they in danger or not?
It’s this fear and uncertainty that is the real killer, not just for Takata, but for all the automakers stuck dealing with the airbag disaster. And there are a huge number of people dealing with this. To date, about 16 million airbags have been replaced in the United States. That’s about 38 percent of the total, so just slightly more than one-third. And the rest of the folks have no idea when their turn will come.
Suffice to say, consumer confidence on this issue is dangerously low. Car buyers have one more reason not to trust automakers, even if those automakers are doing everything they can to solve this particular problem. It’s a tough — and in some ways unfair — scenario. But it’s the one in which nearly 70 million Americans, and all the other drivers with them on the road, find themselves.