Honda cut ties with Takata last week after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration leveled a $70 million fine against the airbag manufacturer for their defective airbags.
Takata, one of the world’s largest airbag manufacturers, has recently been involved in a scandal that originated over a decade ago. In May 2004, an airbag in a 2002 Honda Accord exploded; Honda and Takata called it “an anomaly” and took no further action. In November 2008, Honda became aware of a three more airbag explosions and recalled around 4,000 vehicles to repair the airbags. An investigation by the NHTSA opened in November 2009, but closed a few months later stating that there was insufficient evidence to indicate any wrongdoing or widespread defective airbags. After eight deaths and over 100 injuries, the NHTSA opened another investigation in June 2014 as several major automakers began regional recalls. In November of last year the NHTSA mandated that any vehicle equipped with a Takata airbag must be recalled; Takata, still claiming there was no widespread defect, did not immediately comply with the order to recall the defective airbags.
Last year, the New York Times reported that Takata conducted tests on the steel airbag inflators in 2004. According to two former employees, two of the fifty inflators tested cracked. However, instead of releasing this data to Honda or the NHTSA, Takata executives ordered the employees to erase it and throw the inflators away. The Times more recently reported that in 2010, while assuring the NHTSA that the explosions were isolated incidents, Takata secretly had a pyrotechnic lab at Pennsylvania State University conduct a study on the propellant they used in their inflators. The use of the propellant, ammonium nitrate, was cast into doubt by the study; however, as part of their agreement with Takata, the lab was not allowed to link the study to Takata or disclose that the company paid for it. The study concluded in 2012, but Takata waited another two years before sharing the data with regulators.
The NHTSA cited Takata’s misrepresentation and manipulation of the test data in its decision to fine the company $70 million. They also issued a consent order and if Takata fails to fulfill the terms, the fine could increase to $200 million.
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Source: New York Times, 3 Nov 2015