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Takata scandal claims first Australian life

Rest in peace: A NSW man was killed in Cabramatta when his vehicle, a 2009 Honda CR-V, collided with another and shrapnel was ejected from his airbag striking him in the neck.

ACCC launches inquiry into management of Takata recall after Australian man’s death

24 Jul 2017

UPDATED: 24/07/2017 at 4:30PM.

THE first Australian fatality involving a faulty Takata airbag has spurred the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to launch an investigation into the handling of the national recall after consumer advocacy group Choice slammed car-makers for slow and possibly misleading repairs.

However, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), which represents the interests of Australian automotive companies, is adamant that its members have not engaged in any wrongdoing.

“Throughout this recall campaign, the industry has acted with the utmost concern for the safety of vehicle owners and will continue to do so,” FCAI chief executive Tony Weber said.

New South Wales police confirmed that the death of a motorist in Cabramatta earlier this month related to an incorrectly deployed airbag, taking the global number of Takata-related fatalities to 18.

“Investigations have revealed that the death of the man is likely due to a fault in the airbag, causing the man to be struck in the neck by a small fragment,” it said.

“Further investigations revealed the vehicle in the incident was subject of a worldwide recall for a faulty airbag.

“The death has been reported to the NSW Coroners Court to determine if an inquest is necessary.”

The ACCC issued a recall for the vehicle involved in the incident, confirmed to be a 2009 Honda CR-V, back in June 2015, with the car-maker saying it would contact affected owners by mail once “parts availability is confirmed” at the time.

The fault found within Takata airbags involves metal shrapnel shooting out of the inflator when deployed due to the improper installation of chemical components, with factors such as age and high temperature increasing the likelihood of occurrence.

Honda Australia said it has completed 70 per cent of all its repair work involved in the Takata recall incident, averaging about 5000 replacements a week.

In an official statement, the Japanese car-maker said: “We are aware through NSW Police that an incident occurred on July 13, 2017, and resulted in the tragic death of the driver.

“Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the family of the driver during this difficult time.

“Honda Australia is working closely with authorities to provide whatever assistance is required.”

Similarly, the FCAI released a statement saying it “extends its deepest sympathies to the friends and family of the man involved in the tragic incident of July 13 and we understand that Honda Australia is working closely to provide whatever assistance is required”.

In the wake of the death however, the ACCC has announced it is launching its own investigation into the handling of the call backs with aid from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development (DIRD) – who are overseeing the recalls – and vehicle manufacturers.

According to the ACCC, since the recall was initiated locally in 2009, 850,000 out of the 2.3 million vehicles have had their faulty airbags replaced, putting the Australian repair rate at about 37 per cent.

Globally, over 100 million at-risk airbags have been identified from more than 30 automotive brands including Toyota, Honda, BMW, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Ferrari, Jeep, Lexus, Nissan and Subaru.

Replacing faulty parts has been slow as availability and production of stock has stretched the embattled airbag manufacturer to breaking point. Takata filed for bankruptcy late last month.

However, Choice is claiming that some car-makers are replacing old, defective airbags with new units that feature the same problem as a stop-gap solution, often with wait times stretching to over six months.

“Manufacturers are installing new iterations of the recalled airbags as a temporary fix, after investigations revealed the fault develops over time,” the report said.

Choice also indicated that “many (manufacturers) confirmed a percentage were treated with like-for-like replacements and will therefore have to be recalled again” with the brands involved including Toyota, BMW, Mazda and Subaru.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the consumer watchdog will look into claims of misleading repair work.

“We’re seeking information from the DIRD as to exactly what information it is requiring car manufacturers and retailers to give consumers about their car’s airbag, including the likelihood of the airbag being replaced again,” he said.

“We would have very serious concerns if manufacturers were found to be misleading consumers about their car’s safety in breach of their obligations under consumer law.

“If consumers have already had their airbag replaced, they should contact their manufacturer for advice as to what kind of airbag it was replaced with and how long it is expected to last.”

Mr Sims urged affected vehicle owners to heed the warnings from car-makers and to take action as soon as possible.

“Do not ignore or delay responding to a letter from your car’s manufacturer or retailer asking you to have your car’s airbag replaced,” he said.

“The airbags degrade over time and can become lethal by misdeploying and firing metal shards at the car’s occupants.”

Mr Weber said the automotive industry is committed to seeing all recall issues resolved and also insisted that affected vehicle owners get in contact with manufacturers.

“The industry joins the call from government and the ACCC in strongly urging all owners to assess whether their vehicle is affected and if so, to urgently contact their authorised network.”“While more than 850,000 affected vehicles in Australia have been rectified, there still remains a large number which have not been campaigned. It remains the industry’s steadfast resolve to get in contact with these owners and advise them of the recall.”

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