|The new airbag propellant was supposed to be the next big thing for Takata in 1998. An engineer for the company, Paresh Khandhadia, declared it “the new technological edge” in an interview with a trade magazine then.|
Based on a compound called tetrazole, it was seen as a reliable and effective compound for inflating airbags. Yet despite the fanfare, by 2001 Takata had switched to an alternative formula, ammonium nitrate, and started sending the airbags to automakers, including Honda.
That compound, according to experts, is highly sensitive to temperature changes and moisture, and it breaks down over time. And when it breaks down, it can combust violently, experts say.
“It shouldn’t be used in airbags,” said Paul Worsey, an expert in explosives engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. The compound, he said, is more suitable for large demolitions in mining and construction. “But it’s cheap, unbelievably cheap,” he added.
More than a decade later, that compound is at the center of a safety crisis involving Takata and its airbags. More than 14 million vehicles with the Takata-made airbags have been recalled worldwide over concern that they can explode violently when they deploy in an accident, sending metal debris flying into the cabin. At least five deaths have been linked to the defective airbags.
On Thursday, Takata’s decision to change the propellant is expected to be among the lines of questioning...