Japanese automaker Honda Motor Co Ltd. said it will stop using airbag inflators made by Takata Corp. for its newer cars, claiming that the company “manipulated and misrepresented test data for certain airbag inflators.” The announcement followed Tuesday’s $70 million fine against Tokyo-based Takata for lapses in its airbags and an order to stop using a potentially dangerous chemical, cited as a factor in the deadly airbag ruptures.
Honda released a statement Tuesday responding to the consent that Takata signed with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) over the fine and said that it would stop using Takata’s airbag inflators for its front driver and passenger seats in its any of its newer Honda or Acura models. Honda is Takata’s largest customer and owns a small stake in the company. The carmaker also said that it had reviewed several of Takata's internal documents over the safety issue and alerted U.S. regulators of Takata’s misrepresentation of the data.
“As a result of our review of these documents, we have become aware of evidence that suggests that Takata misrepresented and manipulated test data for certain airbag inflators. Honda expects its suppliers to act with integrity at all times and we are deeply troubled by this apparent behavior by one of our suppliers,” Honda said in the statement late Tuesday, adding: “On a global basis, no new Honda and Acura models currently under development will be equipped with a front driver or passenger Takata airbag inflator.”
"Honda has a sufficient supply of replacement inflators to meet the current pace of customers responding to the recall,” the statement added.
So far eight deaths and more than 100 injuries, dating back to at least 2009, have been linked to the defective airbags. The airbag's metal casing, called the inflator, has been known to rupture with too much force, spraying shrapnel on the passenger or driver. Nearly 19.2 million vehicles have been recalled due to the inflator issue in the U.S. alone while over 30 million cars have been recalled globally since 2008. By October, carmakers had reportedly addressed only 22.5 percent of the 19.2 million cars recalled in the U.S.
At a news conference in Tokyo Wednesday, Takata CEO Shigehisa Takada said, according to the Wall Street Journal, that the company will use guanidine nitrate as the ingredient for its inflators instead of ammonium nitrate propellant over the coming years. Takada also referred to the consent order that the company signed with the NHTSA, which also said that the company will have to pay another $130 million if it fails to comply with the regulators or if additional violations are found.
Takata said in a statement released Tuesday that it will phase out the use and sale of the ammonium nitrate propellant by 2018.
“We deeply regret the circumstances that led to this,” Takada said in the statement, adding that the settlement with the NHTSA will help the company “to focus on rebuilding the trust of automakers, regulators and the driving public.” He also said that the company will be “setting out an orderly transition to the next generation of inflators” and “will comply with all aspects of the settlement.”
Earlier reports suggested that the steel inflators in two airbags had cracked during tests, but Takata employees ordered the lab technicians to delete the data for the tests and disregarded the results. Takata denied the allegation and had reportedly, with Honda, assured the regulators that the airbag explosions were linked to specific, isolated manufacturing issues.
“Takata said it had isolated the problem, it said it had uncovered the mistakes that led to ruptures, and it had pledged its products were safe,” Anthony Foxx, the transportation secretary, said, according to the New York Times, adding: “But we know that the ruptures have continued.”
Jared Levy, a spokesman for Takata did not contradict allegations that the company manipulated the data tests, and he said: “We do not believe that these issues, which we brought to the attention of N.H.T.S.A., are connected to the current recalls, which extensive testing continues to show are associated with long-term exposure to conditions of high heat and absolute humidity,” adding: “Indeed, some of the issues relate to development testing done on inflators for Honda vehicles 15 years ago, which have been subject to recalls for several years.”
Foxx also said: “Delay, misdirection and a refusal to acknowledge the truth allowed a serious problem to become a massive crisis,” adding: “When we first brought this issue to light, there was a lot of denial on the part of Takata.”
Regulators said Tuesday, according to the Journal, that millions of additional vehicles could be recalled and added that despite eight years having passed, the company has still not been able to find the root cause for the airbag ruptures. Regulators, who started investigating Takata in June 2014, have also reportedly allotted an independent monitor to probe the airbag-maker’s safety practices for five years.
“Today’s actions are long overdue, but I remain concerned that Takata will be able to sell some inflators with ammonium nitrate until the end of 2018,” Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, said, according to the Journal, adding: “We urgently need to redouble efforts to get the recalled vehicles fixed and get the old ammonium nitrate-based inflators out. If an independent monitor can’t help quickly move things along, then NHTSA ought to do it.”