Takata denies improper air bag tests
Washington — Embattled Japanese air bag manufacturer Takata Corp. late Wednesday defended its testing procedures and said a New York Times story that asserted it had conducted secret tests a decade ago was “simply untrue.”
The remarks comes as a Senate panel prepares to hold a hearing on the defective air bag issue as early as next week and more than 16 million vehicles worldwide have been recalled by 11 automakers since 2008.
In a point by point rebuttal issued by Takata’s North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, the parts company said the allegations in the Times story are not true.
“The article attacks Takata’s reputation and culture in a way that is indefensible. For over 80 years our people have manufactured safety products responsible for saving thousands of lives. That will remain our mission,” the company said.
On Friday, three senators asked the Justice Department to investigate a New York Times report that Takata destroyed evidence and data from test results in 2004 that showed steel inflators cracked in two of the 50 air bags tested — a condition that can lead to air bag failure. Federal investigators issued a statement last week asking current or former employees to come forward.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating whether recalls involving Takata air bag inflator ruptures linked to four deaths in Hondas since 2008 should be expanded. The agency is looking at seven recalls related to Takata air bags since 2008, some covering manufacturing problems at Takata and more recent ones connected to long-term exposure to consistently high temperatures and humidity.
"NHTSA is actively investigating Honda for its early warning reporting and compelling both Honda and Takata to produce documents and answer questions, under oath. We will leave no stone unturned as we review everything we have and new information we receive in the future," the agency said in a statement last week.
The Detroit News has learned the Senate Commerce Committee is planning a hearing as early as Thursday on the defective air bag issue; Takata and NHTSA officials are expected to testify. Committee officials wouldn’t confirm the hearing, and with Congress looking to depart for the year, the hearing could be delayed.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, a member of the Commerce Committee, spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday holding an air bag and demanding faster action by automakers to fix defective ones.
In its rebuttal, Takata said it did not conduct tests on scrapyard air bag inflators in 2004 as described in the Times article, and it did not hide the results of inflator tests in 2004 at any other point.
“The Times article confuses multiple events occurring at different times and for different purposes and thereby tells a story that is simply untrue,” Takata said. “Takata’s engineers in the U.S. did not learn of the 2004 accident involving the rupture of an air bag inflator in a Honda Accord until the middle of 2005, and so they did not and could not perform inflator tests in 2004 in response to that accident. In 2005, the engineers concluded that the 2004 event was likely an anomaly based on a review of photographs of the damaged inflator.”
The Times reported that after Takata learned a decade ago that one of its air bags failed and sent metal shrapnel flying at a driver, Takata conducted secret tests at its headquarters in Auburn Hills after normal work hours and on weekends and holidays. According to the report, Takata ordered lab technicians to delete testing results from computers and destroy the faulty inflators.
Takata confirmed it did conduct urgent air bag experiments at its Auburn Hills facility in the summer of 2004 “and those experiments took place around the clock and on weekends. But it said those experiments were not “secret tests. They were done at the request of NHTSA to address a cushion-tearing issue unrelated to inflator rupturing, and they involved new air bag modules, not scrapyard inflators.”
Takata said it worked with Honda on the unrelated issue, and in late 2004 Honda notified NHTSA that it would conduct a recall.
The Times business editor, Dean E. Murphy, said in an email the newspaper would be posting a story addressing the issue. NHTSA also didn’t immediately comment.
Takata said following reports of three inflator ruptures in Honda vehicles in 2007, Takata’s engineers performed tests of inflators retrieved from the field, including scrapyard inflators. “Takata’s engineers reported all of those test results to Honda, and information about these test results was also provided to NHTSA. Takata did not suppress any test results showing cracking or rupturing in the inflators,” the company said.
“Takata’s engineers did experiment with specially fabricated prototypes to try alternative inflator designs, as described in the Times article, but those prototype experiments occurred in 2007, not in 2004 as the article alleges. The experiments proved unsuccessful.”
U.S. Sens Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, on Friday called on the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation of Takata.