Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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U.S. govt says Takata may have placed profits over safety by halting factory audits


June 23, 2015
By Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Jun. 23, 2015 – A group of U.S. senators says automotive air bag maker Takata Corp. may have placed profit over safety by halting safety audits of factories. Democratic members of the Senate Commerce Committee made the allegation in a report on the Takata air bag crisis, citing internal company emails showing that the global audits were stopped for financial reasons from 2009 to 2011.

Inflators in Takata air bags can explode with too much force, sending metal shrapnel into drivers and passengers. The problem has caused at least eight deaths and 105 injuries.

The report, released a day ahead of a committee hearing on Takata air bag problems, says that once a senior vice-president called for the audits to be resumed, a safety director faulted a factory in Mexico for failing to properly close bags of ammonium nitrate, the air bag propellant, and for storing contaminated propellant near good materials.

Takata said it never discontinued factory safety audits and said the Democratic report took the emails out of context. The company said it never halted what it called safety audits of product quality and manufacturing processes at its plants. The audits that were halted dealt with employee handling of pyrotechnic materials, a Takata statement said. The company said it now has an independent quality assurance panel that reviews manufacturing processes.

The Democratic report also found that an unknown number of Takata air bag inflators made to replace recalled parts might also be defective. And it accused the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of failing to promptly investigate early reports of defective air bags.

In May, Takata bowed to U.S. government pressure and agreed to double the number of air bag inflators it’s recalling to 33.8 million, making it the largest automotive recall in U.S. history.

Vehicles from 11 automakers are affected including BMW, Daimler Trucks, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Toyota.

— With files from Tom Krisher, The Associated Press