May 14, 2018 / 5:26 PM / 4 months ago

UPDATE 1-U.S. safety agency demands meetings with automakers on Takata recall

(Adds details from agency letter to automakers, quote from Democratic senator, background)

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON, May 14 (Reuters) - The U.S. auto safety agency wants to meet with 12 major automakers that failed to fulfill a December 2017 target deadline for completing repairs on the highest-priority vehicles with dangerous Takata air bag inflators.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Monday it had written letters on May 3 to automakers including Honda Motor Co, Toyota Motor Corp, General Motors Co, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV , Daimler AG and Ford Motor Co.

NHTSA said the 12 automakers have collectively repaired 65 percent of 20 million vehicles in the highest priority groups, leaving about 7 million unrepaired.

In total, nearly 30 million U.S. vehicles remain unrepaired in an air bag recall affecting 19 automakers, the largest auto recall recorded. At least 22 deaths and more than 290 injuries worldwide are linked to Takata inflators that can explode, unleashing metal shrapnel inside cars and trucks. The defect led Takata to file for bankruptcy protection in June 2017.

A trade group representing major automakers did not immediately comment on the NHTSA request to meet with company representatives.

The NHTSA has been criticized by some Democratic lawmakers for not doing more to prod automakers to fix vehicles faster. A U.S. Senate hearing in March also looked at the issue.

Heidi King, who has served as deputy NHTSA administrator since September, has been tapped by President Donald Trump to run the agency and faces a confirmation hearing on Wednesday. King said in the letter she was "deeply concerned" that millions of vehicles in the highest risk category remain unrepaired.

Senator Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the Commerce Committee, said last week he wants King to work to speed up efforts to get Takata airbags replaced. Of the 22 deaths worldwide, 15 are in the United States. In total, 20 deaths have been reported in Honda vehicle and two in Ford pickup trucks.

"These numbers show that we still have a huge problem with getting these dangerous airbags replaced and off our highways,” Nelson said.

Other companies with vehicles include Nissan Motor Co , Subaru Corp and Mazda Motor Corp.

Takata pleaded guilty in 2017 single felony count of wire fraud to resolve a U.S. Justice Department investigation and agreed to a $1 billion settlement. The company is under the oversight of an independent monitor for three years. (Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Grant McCool)

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