Washington — Embattled Japanese air bag manufacturer Takata Corp. took out full page advertisements in newspapers Thursday, saying "more must be done now" in the face of the recall of more than 11 million vehicles for air bags in the United States that rupture and cause serious injuries or deaths.
The open letter from Takata CEO Shigehisa Takada was published in The Detroit News, Detroit Free Press and other papers, but didn't change the company's refusal to comply with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to expand a driver-side air bag recall nationally by 8 million vehicles. The company has repeatedly argued there is no scientific basis to expand the recall nationally.
"We understand the public's concerns, and we take them seriously," Takada wrote, noting it has agreed to boost production capacity from 300,000 replacement parts per month to 450,000.
It comes as the company's CEO told the Nikkei newspaper in his first public comments in months that it didn't do a good job communicating.
"Our intention didn't come across well," Takada told the Nikkei newspaper. "People saw the image that we were against recalls."
Takada, the grandson of the company's founder and part of the family that owns a majority stake in one of the world's largest air bag manufacturers, said Takata will not support the expansion of the driver-side recall nationally but has enough cash on hand to cover mounting costs.
"Takata is still looking into whether there is scientific data to support a defect determination in those cases," he said.
NHTSA Deputy chief David Friedman told The Detroit News this week the agency will "force” Takata and other automakers to expand their recalls covering more than 5 million vehicles. Ford Motor Co. said this week it’s expanding its recall as demanded by the government. Honda Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Co. have also agreed to the request made in mid-November, while Chrysler Group LLC and BMW AG — along with Takata — have refused.
Friedman said the agency is moving toward sending formal demand notices "where we will force" automakers to recall the vehicles. The agency is reviewing tens of thousands of pages "so that we can build an airtight case, so if they force us to go all the way into court — which we will if that's what it takes to protect the American public, then we will win."
Takata air bag inflators may shoot metal fragments at drivers and passengers causing gruesome wounds. Since 2013, 10 automakers have recalled 11 million vehicles in the United States for Takata air bags that are linked to at least five deaths and 50 injuries — mostly in high-humidity areas.
The 10 automakers met this month in Romulus to work to hire an engineering firm to help them conduct additional testing, while NHTSA has also contacted its own outside firm to assist it.
Both the House and Senate in recent weeks held hearings and sharply questioned a Takata vice president.
Members of Congress question why most of the vehicles recalled have been limited to high-humidity areas and worry that Takata hasn't found the root cause of the problem. They also question if the replacement air bags — which have the same chemistry — will have similar problems in five or 10 years.
“No one can say for sure that the replacement parts are any safer than the originals,” said U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, this month. “What should I say to the mom in Michigan who asks me if she and her family are safe behind the wheel?”
Earlier this month, Takata told Congress it is creating an independent panel to review concerns about quality at its manufacturing plants — a fact it highlighted in its letter.
Takata said the review will be chaired by former White House Chief of Staff and Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner.
Takata has also named former Transportation secretaries Rodney Slater and Norman Y. Mineta to serve as special counsels.
"They will advise the company as we address the current challenges we face," he said.
Takata said earlier this month it is boosting resources at its North American headquarters in Auburn Hills.
"I am directing that additional resources and equipment be added immediately to increase the number of tests we are able to perform each day, and we are bringing in additional engineers and statisticians who are recognized in the fields of propellants, combustion and data analysis, to work directly with our engineers in Michigan to help us carry out this critical work," Takada said.
Senators at a hearing last month pressed Takata to take steps to conduct an independent review, as General Motors Co. did with its delayed ignition switch recall. The U.S. Attorney's Office in New York is investigating Takata and a federal grand jury has subpoenaed documents from the company.