Takata lied about its defective airbags. And people died.
The web is busting with stories on the Takata airbag mess.
By way of background, Takata, is a Japanese company that supplies airbags to several US car manufacturers. Former Takata engineers have indicated that years ago, cost factors compelled the company to turn to a less expensive propellant for use it its airbags. The propellant triggers inflation of the airbag. Unfortunately, Takata decided to use ammonium nitrate. And that decision had deadly consequences. Ammonium nitrate has a flaw. A very, very serious flaw. Ammonium nitrate can deteriorate over time. And, when it deteriorates it becomes unstable. And when the propellant in an airbag is unstable, it explodes unexpectedly. And when that happens, shards of metal and other shrapnel are shot into the interior of a vehicle. And people die or are grievously injured.
Other airbag suppliers had considered ammonium nitrate in the 1990s. But they tested it and determined that due to its instability, ammonium nitrate was simply too dangerous and could not be used. [It is hard to imagine that Takata wasn’t aware of the results of those studies. Even if Takata wasn’t aware of the results, it is difficult to believe Takata was not at least generally aware that its competitors were looking into the ammonium nitrate issue].
But for whatever reason, Takata continues using ammonium nitrate. For years. And, to make matters worse, Takata manipulated the test results that it submitted to car manufacturers. In 2004, a Takata airbag in a Honda Accord suddenly exploded and shot metal fragments toward the driver, causing serious injuries. The folks at Takata kept quiet and labeled the event an anomaly. The New York Times did a serious of articles on the defective Takata airbags and obtained internal emails from Takata that demonstrated a decidedly brazen approach to manipulating testing data. In 2006 one Takata airbag engineer wrote “Happy Manipulating” on an email referencing airbag test results. In 2010, Takata assured federal regulators that the airbag issue was an isolated manufacturing problem. But at the same time, Takata had Penn State researchers investigating the link between the ammonium nitrate and exploding airbags. Those same Penn State researchers concluded in a 2012 report that ammonium nitrate shouldn’t be used in Takata airbags. Takata sat on those finding for TWO YEARS before sharing them with regulators.
The exploding Takata airbags have now been linked to at least 16 deaths and hundreds of serious injuries – including horrific facial scarring and blindness. Some of those deaths or injuries could have been avoided if Takata had done the right thing in 2004 when they were first put on notice that there was something dangerously wrong with its airbags. Or in in 2010 when Takata became sufficiently concerned to hire researchers to examine the link between the ammonium nitrate and the explosions.
In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fined Takata $70 million for its failure to promptly disclose information pertaining to the airbag defect.
In 2016, the Department of Justice went after Takata. In February, 2017, Takata agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud and pay a $25 million dollar criminal penalty. Yoichiro Nomura, Takata’s Chief Financial Officer[pictured above] entered the plea and admitted the actions of certain Takata employees were “deeply inappropriate.” An additional $975 million was set aside in a Victim’s Compensation Fund. Of that amount, $125 million has been set aside for victims who suffered injuries, while $850 million has been set aside for restitution to car companies. In the United States alone, 19 automakers are recalling over 42 million cars. Worldwide the recall is expected to exceed 100 million vehicles.
If you take a look at the Takata website, you will see a screen shot with text that says Takata dreams of a word “with zero fatalities from traffic accidents.” They should be ashamed.
Lawsuits filed last week in Florida charge that Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Ford and BMW were all aware that the Takata airbags were unsafe – but continued to install them in vehicles. The various companies insist they were deceived by Takata and should not be liable. This tragic story is far from over.