Takata names new general counsel in North America

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Embattled Japanese air bag manufacturer Takata Corp. named a new general counsel for its North American unit Monday — less than a week after its president and chief operating officer resigned.

Takata said Bruce D. Angiolillo, a longtime lawyer at Simpson Thacher & Barlett LLP, has been named general counsel at TK Holdings Inc., the Auburn Hills-based North American subsidiary of Takata.

“Angiolillo will oversee all North American legal and regulatory matters at the company and work directly with Takata’s senior management, external legal counsel and the Company’s governing bodies. He will play an integral role in Takata’s continued efforts to work cooperatively with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other regulators to resolve all outstanding issues related to the safety campaigns associated with certain Takata air bag inflators,” the company said in a statement.

The company has come under harsh criticism from NHTSA and many in Congress for refusing to agree to a government demand to expand a recall of driver side air bags by 8 million vehicles. All five automakers have agreed to expand the driver-side air bag as demanded by the government, but Takata is refusing to declare them defective.

In total, 10 automakers have now recalled more than 14.6 million vehicles with Takata air bags since 2013. The automakers met earlier this month in Romulus to discuss hiring an outside engineering firm for independent testing. NHTSA also has hired an outside firm for testing.

Automakers still don't know the root cause of why inflators in some air bags explode, throwing shrapnel at drivers and passengers. Most — but not all of the exploding inflators — have been in hot, humid areas like Florida.

Shigehisa Takada, chairman & CEO of Takata, stated, “Bruce is a talented lawyer whose extensive expertise in complex corporate law, sound judgment and strong communication skills make him a highly valuable addition to our team. Bruce shares our strong values and will fit seamlessly into our culture of integrity and commitment to driver safety. We will benefit greatly from his counsel as we continue our work to support our customers and their safety campaigns in close coordination with NHTSA.”

Angiolillo said Takata would work with regulators. “I’m honored to have been appointed to this important role at a time when Takata is clearly facing some challenges, but also has significant opportunities ahead of it to regain the full confidence of the public and its customers. I am eager to help identify and pursue solutions that are in the best interests of the driving public and are fully aligned with our customers and regulators. Takata is an organization with a rich history and long track record of quality and integrity, and I look forward to working tirelessly to ensure its products will continue to protect driver safety long into the future,” he said in a written statement.

It comes as NHTSA’s new administrator, Mark Rosekind, was sworn in last Monday after a quick confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

Last week, under government pressure, BMW AG agreed on Monday to expand its recall of vehicles with possible defective driver-side air bags by 140,000 3 Series cars from model years 2004-06.

BMW becomes the last of five automakers to expand Takata driver-side recalls after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration demanded the action Nov. 18. Takata hasn’t yet agreed to declare the vehicles defective.

Automakers have now recalled in total more than 61 million vehicles in 2014, more than doubling the previous record of 30.8 million vehicles called back in 2004. Leading all automakers is General Motors Co., which has recalled more than 30 million vehicles this year, including more than 26 million in the United States.

Earlier this month, Chrysler said it would expand its recall of driver-side air bags to all of the United States, and call back an additional 3 million cars and trucks. Chrysler was the the fourth of five automakers to agree to national recalls after NHTSA's demand.

Last week, Ford Motor Co. also said it would expand its recall of vehicles for Takata driver-side air bags nationally, adding another 447,000 vehicles to the recall. Honda and Mazda had previously agreed.

Takata air bags are linked to at least five deaths and at least 50 injuries. All of the deaths have been in Honda vehicles, with four in the United States.

Takata has repeatedly argued there is no scientific basis to expand the recall nationally.

Automakers have also expanded recalls for additional passenger air bags in recent weeks after Takata expanded the number of high-humidity states where it believes the air bags are subject to possible failures.