Takata moving BMW inflator work from Mexico to Germany

Takata plans to shift production of BMW airbag inflators from Mexico to Germany, BMW said on Wednesday in a filing with U.S. safety regulators who have been probing questions about the quality of manufacturing at the plant.

Automakers that use the Takata inflators, including Toyota, warned that it was not feasible to switch to other suppliers to meet demand for replacement parts. The Takata inflators are at risk of blowing up with too much force and spraying occupants with metal shrapnel.

Germany’s BMW said in a filing posted online by U.S. safety regulators that it is supporting efforts by Takata to shift inflator production from its plant in Monclova, Mexico, to another Takata plant in Freiberg, Germany. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating Takata inflators linked to at least five deaths.

Last month, Reuters reported that manufacturing problems with Takata inflators went beyond what the company had disclosed to U.S. regulators. Citing that story, NHTSA asked Takata to answer several questions about the Mexican plant.

Takata spokesman Alby Berman said the work being moved from Mexico was only for BMW vehicles and the plant was still installing two new production lines to boost capacity.

NHTSA posted documents from automakers responding to an Oct. 29 letter from deputy administrator David Friedman.

Officials from Takata, Honda, Chrysler Group and NHTSA are scheduled to testify to a U.S. Senate panel on Thursday.

On Tuesday, NHTSA said it had told Takata and five automakers to expand a U.S. recall of vehicles with the airbags in question.

BMW said additional capacity for replacement Takata inflators should be available by mid-December.

Some automakers, including Toyota and Ford, said they have spoken with Takata rivals about buying replacement parts for the Takata inflators. Honda also said alternate suppliers were being considered.

However, Toyota disclosed that other suppliers said it would take at least a year to arrange alternate inflator production, while BMW said it would take two years and divert attention from current recall efforts.

Toyota also said it was evaluating whether rival inflators could be adapted for vehicles that have the recalled Takata inflators, but added that effort would require reengineering the airbag module.

Nissan called such an approach “not feasible” and said the best option remained increasing production.

Mazda and General Motors said it would be difficult to quickly change designs or suppliers for inflators, which are tailored to specific vehicles.