Product Liability

Senate report finds Takata paused quality checks at its airbag plants

Takata airbag image source alexauto321 wikicommons Senate report finds Takata paused quality checks at its airbag plantsTakata Corporation refutes the findings of a Senate report that found the Japanese company suspended its quality control audits for two years to keep its costs down, a year after Honda announced its first safety recall of vehicles equipped with Takata’s defective airbags that were prone to explode.

Senator Bill Nelson, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, released his staff report ahead of a panel hearing that called together officials from the Japanese supplier, Honda, Fiat and Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to testify on the defective airbags.

Takata, a major airbag manufacturer and supplier, produced the safety devices for millions of vehicles across a dozen different brands. Experts believe the chemical propellant Takata used in the airbag inflators made the devices too hypersensitive and prone to deploy with excessive force, often shattering their metal containers and spraying vehicle occupants with shrapnel.

Senator Nelson asserts in the staff report that Takata suspended the safety audits in 2009 in both of its North American facilities that shared airbag production. Takata’s plant in Moses Lake, Wash., makes the inflator mechanisms and its facility in Monclova, Mexico, assembles the airbags.

Evidence of serious quality-control problems was found in both plants, the report said.

Takata’s airbags have been linked to eight deaths and about 200 injuries to date, and more possible cases remain under review. The recall of about 34 million vehicles equipped with the faulty airbags marks the largest automotive and consumer product safety recall in U.S. history.

Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who has been one of the most vocal critics of Takata, suggested auto manufacturers are held to lower safety standards than the airline industry.

“If our airplanes and airspace were as dangerous as our cars and our roads, corporate officials would be indicted and there would be sweeping changes in the airline industry,” Senator Blumenthal said.

Takata disputes the Senate report, alleging it misconstrues internal communications and takes statements regarding the audit suspensions out of context.

Sources:

Industry Week
Boston Globe