Japanese airbag manufacturer Takata will change the design of driver-side airbag inflators but stick to the controversial ammonium nitrate propellant despite the ongoing recall scandal.
The inflators are at the centre of an affair, which saw tens of millions of cars equipped with Takata airbags recalled globally after some of the devices exploded with too much force, shooting fragments of the airbag’s metal casing on the passengers.
In written testimony ahead of a US congressional hearing scheduled on Tuesday, Takata executive Kevin Kennedy said other companies producing replacements for potentially defective Takata inflators will not use ammonium nitrate.
Kennedy said Takata is working with automakers to transition to newer versions of driver inflators in replacement kits or inflators made by other suppliers that do not contain ammonium nitrate.
A Takata spokesman added that replacement inflators made by Takata will continue to use ammonium nitrate, "which is safe and effective for use in air bag inflators when properly engineered and manufactured."
Takata is the only major supplier of airbags using ammonium nitrate, the safety of which has been questions by several industry experts.
Ammonium nitrate is a relatively inexpensive and clean-burning compound known for its high volatility when exposed to moisture.
In interviews earlier this year with Reuters, Mark Lillie, a retired chemical engineer who left Takata in 1999, said he raised concerns with the company about the safety of ammonium nitrate.
"I literally said if we go forward with this, someone will be killed," said Lillie.
Earlier this week, German research organisation Fraunhofer ICT released a report on its investigation into the airbag explosions, the Wallstreet Journal reported.
The organisation said that a single root cause had not been identified and instead pointed to multiple possible factors that could have led to moisture entering the airbag inflators, leading to unpredictable behaviour of the explosive devices.
At least six people have been killed by the faulty airbags.
Takata said it was confident that replacement driver-side inflators with ammonium nitrate already installed in owners' cars are safe, although it plans to replace those replacement parts with newer designs.