Takata Corp. has once again attracted the attention of federal authorities following Monday’s announcement from the U.S. traffic safety watchdog urging the owners of millions of cars to take immediate action to replace potentially fatal air bags. The defect, which can lead to air bags overinflating and spraying metal fragments into the faces of drivers and passengers, covers more than 7 million cars from at least 10 manufacturers.
Anonymous sources told the Wall Street Journal Wednesday the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan is investigating if the Tokyo-based maker of seatbelts, child seats and air bags made misleading claims to U.S. regulators about the safety of its air bag systems used widely in the industry.
The issue underscores the extent to which the auto industry often relies on a single supplier for components that can end up in vehicles made by different companies. If a part turns out to contain a dangerous flaw, it not only poses a health hazard but also leads to a series of costly recalls, inconveniencing millions of vehicle owners.
While the investigation is preliminary and might not lead to charges, this isn’t the first time Takata has been in the sights of U.S. federal authorities. In October 2013, three Takata executives pleaded guilty in the U.S. to a global seat-belt price-fixing conspiracy that overcharged automakers for the safety component. Takata also paid $71.3 million to settle the antitrust charges.
Takata is one of many Japanese auto part manufacturers that have been targeted in recent years for colluding to raise prices. Last year Ford Motor Co. became the first automaker to sue a Japanese supplier over conspiring to overcharge it for electrical components.