Takata faces U.S. criminal probe over air bag recalls

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Takata Corp., the embattled Japanese air bag manufacturer, said it has received a federal grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York over defective air bags.

The company — which faces an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — said Thursday in a financial disclosure document that it faces a probe into exploding air bags that cause metal fragments to hit drivers and passengers, and are linked to five deaths worldwide.

It comes as the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee confirmed it will hold a hearing Nov. 20 on Takata air bag recalls. Honda spokesman Chris Martin said in a statement it has been asked and has agreed to testify. Takata and NHTSA also will testify.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, who will chair the hearing, said some some automakers are dragging their feet in making fixes. He also criticized NHTSA, saying it “has not been right upfront, forward-leading and aggressive to protect the public.”

The White House is preparing to nominate a new NHTSA administrator as early as Friday. The position has been unfilled for 11 months and the department has been run by the deputy administrator, David Friedman.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, who chaired two hearings on General Motors safety issues this year, told The Detroit News the agency needs new leadership: “I feel very strongly about that. I have been pushing the White House to forward a nominee.”

Takata noted it faces class-action lawsuits and said it has received a grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan — the same office investigating General Motors’ delayed the recall of 2.6 million vehicles for ignition problems. Takata said in its disclosure that it is not able to estimate how much it might face in fines related to the investigation.

On Thursday, Honda announced a fifth death in Malaysia that occurred in July is related to the problem as it issued a new recall for more than 170,000 vehicles outside the United States including the city and Civic. The four previous deaths were reported in the United States.

It marks Honda’s 10th recall worldwide since 2008 related to the issue covering nearly 10 million vehicles, including more than 5 million in the United States. Honda has only confirmed three of the five are linked to the air bag defect, but said it is investigating two other U.S. deaths.

Takata chairman and CEO Takada Shigehisa apologized in Japan in a letter Thursday after Honda’s disclosure of the latest death. He apologized to shareholders and customers, and said the company was “praying for the souls of those who died.”

“We will continue to fully cooperate in the inquiry or request of the relevant authorities,” Shigehisa said. “We have to apologize for the inconvenience to everyone by the failure … we will also do our best future.”

Last week, three U.S. senators called on the Justice Department to open a criminal probe into Takata after a New York Times report that the company conducted secret tests in 2004 at its Auburn Hills facility, and hid and destroyed evidence. The company issued a lengthy rebuttal denying the allegations.

NHTSA has pushed 10 automakers who have recalled 7.8 million vehicles in the United States since 2013 to move faster. The agency is investigating whether the air bag recalls should be expanded. It is requiring Takata and Honda to turn over significant information about the recalls in the coming weeks.

Automakers worldwide have recalled more than 16 million vehicles with defective Takata air bags since 2008.


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