Sen­a­tors say Takata may have put prof­its over safety


A group of U.S. sen­a­tors says automotive air bag maker Takata Corp. may have placed profit over safety by halt­ing safety au­dits of fac­to­ries.

Demo­cratic mem­bers of the Se­nate Com­merce Com­mit­tee made the al­le­ga­tion in a re­port on the Takata air bag cri­sis, cit­ing in­ter­nal com­pany emails show­ing that the global au­dits were stopped for fi­nan­cial rea­sons from 2009 to 2011.

In­fla­tors in Takata air bags can ex­plode with too much force, send­ing me­tal shrap­nel into driv­ers and pas­sen­gers. The prob­lem has caused at least eight deaths and 105 in­juries.

“The more ev­i­dence we see, the more it paints a trou­bling pic­ture of a man­u­fac­turer that lacked con­cern,” Sen. Bill Nel­son of Florida, the com­mit­tee’s rank­ing Demo­crat, said in a state­ment.

The re­port, re­leased a day ahead of a com­mit­tee hear­ing on Takata air bag prob­lems, says that once a se­nior vice pres­i­dent called for the au­dits to be re­sumed, a safety di­rec­tor faulted a fac­tory in Mexico for fail­ing to prop­erly close bags of am­mo­nium ni­trate, the air bag pro­pel­lant, and for stor­ing con­tam­i­nated pro­pel­lant near good ma­te­ri­als.

Takata has said that the pro­pel­lant can de­te­ri­o­rate when ex­posed to air­borne mois­ture, caus­ing it to burn faster than de­signed. That can blow apart a me­tal can­is­ter de­signed to con- tain an ex­plo­sion that’s sup­posed to in­flate the air bag.

Takata said it never dis­con­tin­ued fac­tory safety au­dits and said the Demo­cratic re­port took the emails out of con­text. The com­pany said it never halted what it called safety au­dits of prod­uct qual­ity and man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses at its plants. The au­dits that were halted dealt with em­ployee han­dling of py­rotech­nic ma­te­ri­als, a Takata state­ment said. The com­pany said it now has an in­de­pen­dent qual­ity as­sur­ance panel that re­views man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses.

The Demo­cratic re­port also found that an un­known num­ber of Takata air bag in­fla­tors made to re­place re­called parts might also be de­fec­tive. And it ac­cused the gov­ern­ment’s Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion of fail­ing to promptly in­ves­ti­gate early re­ports of de­fec­tive air bags.

In May, Takata bowed to U.S. gov­ern­ment pres­sure and agreed to dou­ble the num­ber of air bag in­fla­tors it’s re­call­ing to 33.8 mil­lion, mak­ing it the largest automotive re­call in U.S. history. The prob­lem, which has per­sisted for more than a decade, has brought con­gres­sional hear­ings and in­ves­ti­ga­tions from NHTSA and the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

Ve­hi­cles from 11 au­tomak­ers are af­fected in­clud­ing BMW, Daim­ler Trucks, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Gen­eral Mo­tors, Honda, Mazda, Mit­subishi, Subaru and Toy­ota.

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