The Takata airbag defect that has led to multiple deaths has now led to what could be the largest fine ever issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) if the manufacturer of airbags violates the consent decree is agreed to this week. NHTSA will impose $70 million in penalties and could increase that amount by $130 million if Takata breaches the agreement.
Honda also announced that it would drop Takata as its airbag supplier due to what it claims were manipulated test data. This is a significant blow to the company, as sales of airbags to Honda represented about 40% of their business.
This defect, which leads to air bag inflators rupturing and spraying drivers with metal shards, and which has caused eight deaths, has been a long-running disaster for motorists, Takata and the auto industry.
The first reported incident occurred in 2004, and during the intervening decade, Takata has ignored or minimized accidents involving ruptures of the inflator canister and downplayed critical evidence.
The 2004 incident was dismissed as an "anomaly." A 2012 internal report that indicated there could be problems with the inflator propellant, ammonium nitrate. The company ignored that result and did not share the research with regulators for two years. Last year, they claimed NHTSA lacked authority to order a recall and remained combative of the allegations.
We all have to trust that carmakers and their suppliers work in good faith to produce vehicles that are safe. The Takata airbag scandal has undermined much of that trust, and the Department of Transportation will now require they prove the propellant is safe, or it will order the millions of vehicles equipped with airbags containing this propellant to all be recalled.
In recent years, it has become clear that too much trust has been given to the industry. The lax governmental supervision has allowed many elements of the business to rely on self-regulation. Sadly, this appears to encourage the pretence that defects don't exist, until accidents and fatalities make impossible for them to be ignored.
Source: nytimes.com, "U.S. Regulators Fine Takata Up to $200 Million Over Faulty Airbags," DANIELLE IVORY and HIROKO TABUCHI, November 3, 2015