In what could only be called a pervasive pattern of manipulation, staffers on the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday released documents that showed Takata, the airbag manufacturer at the center of the largest safety recall in history, routinely manipulated test data on its inflators. The staffers, who support the Democratic side of the aisle, conducted their review as part of an investigation into the airbag recalls. The staffers maintained that the information shows there was a “culture within Takata that, at a minimum, did not prioritize the safety of its products – and perhaps operated with an utter disregard for safety.” Takata discounted the linkage between the manipulation cited and the defects that are the subject of the recalls.
The committee staffers’ report noted that Takata engineers raised warning flags at various times, telling superiors or colleagues that validation testing data had been manipulated to align with customer specifications. Further, they indicated that data was selectively kept from Takata customer. The staffers said that those concerns were dismissed or ignored. The staff concerns echo similar concerns on the part of Takata clients and regulators.
For example, when sanctions were announced against the airbag manufacturer three months ago, Mark Rosekind, administration of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), said that his staff had “uncovered a pattern by Takata of providing selective, incomplete or inaccurate” data dating from 2009. Honda, at the time Takata’s largest customer that still also holds a share of the airbag manufacturer, said that it, too, had found similar data manipulation. Honda dropped Takata as a supplier in November.
Continuing its policy of apology, Takata said in a statement that it was “deeply sorry” for the 11 worldwide fatalities and more than 100 injuries that have been linked to airbag inflator faults. The manufacturer, though, continued to maintain that “issues with validation testing” and airbag ruptures were not related.
Automotive News, in an important story yesterday, called the “issues raised in the documents cited in the Senate committee report are entirely inexcusable and will not be tolerated or repeated.” Parsing its words quite carefully, Takata continued that “analysis, extensive testing and independent review show that the issues with validation testing of the original phase stabilized ammonium nitrate inflators are not the root cause of the field ruptures that have occurred with Takata inflators.” The manufacturer said that “these issues are totally incompatible with Takata’s engineers standards and protocols.”
Meantime, the airbag manufacturer, which is required to phase out ammonium nitrate inflators that have not been made with a stabilizing desiccant – a substance that absorbs moisture which has been identified as a cause of the failures – by the end of 2018. Takata can still make as many inflators with the desiccant is it needs to fulfill contracts.
The staffers have asked the NHTSA to:
- Use its powers, under the consent decree between the agency and Takata, to speed up the phase-out and wind-down of ammonium nitrate-based inflators with desiccant.
- Accelerate the production of non-ammonium nitrate replacement inflators.
- To better coordinate recalls and manage announcements about further recalls and repair availability.