The Takata defective airbag debacle has potentially affected more than
7.8 million U.S. vehicles, as automakers scramble to replace frontal air
bags on the driver's and/or passenger's side. Takata, a major
parts supplier, sold the airbags which were installed on vehicles from
model year 2002 to 2008. These airbags can deploy in an explosive manner,
injuring or even killing the occupants of the vehicle.
According to a Nissan spokesperson, "
The propellant could potentially deteriorate over time due to environmental
factors, which could lead to over-aggressive combustion in the event of
an airbag deployment." The airbags are particularly susceptible to error in high-humidity
areas. When a defective airbag inflates in a crash, metal shards from
the airbag may be sprayed throughout the passenger cabin. So far, there
have been five fatalities and more than a hundred serious injuries linked
to Takata airbags.
Stefan Stocker Steps Down
Very recently, Stefan Stocker, president of Takata stepped down, leaving
Takata's chairman to determine how to respond to the recall of millions
of vehicles with defective airbags. Stocker, a Swiss national and Takata's
first foreign president, will remain with the company as a board member.
Shigehisa Takada, grandson of the company founder, will retain his title
as chairman and step into the role of president, vacated by Stocker. Stocker
was hired last year to increase oversight in Takata's global operations.
Takata, owned primarily by the founding family, has been widely criticized
for the way it has handled the airbag safety crisis. The company now faces
dozens of class action lawsuits, not to mention a U.S. criminal investigation.
While there have been nearly 8 million Takata airbags recalled in the
U.S., more than 24 million have been recalled worldwide.
Takata's Agreement, Automakers Response
Takata has agreed to take a 50 percent pay cut for four months in response
to the airbag crisis; Stocker and three other senior staff members will
also take a cut in pay for those four months, although the details of
those pay cuts are sketchy. All the deaths associated with Takata airbags
occurred in automobiles manufactured by Honda. General Motors has developed
contingency plans to shift their business to other airbag manufacturers
should the recall widen. In fact, GM intends to direct Takata to "share"
manufacturing details with TRW and Autoliv so that replacement parts made
by other airbag manufacturers would work with Takata airbags. According
to a December 18
th statement, Ford is adding an additional 447,310 vehicles to the recall,
bringing the company in compliance with the NHTSA's call for a nationwide recall.
Takata maintains the aging of the airbags, particularly in regions with
high humidity, is to blame for the potentially deadly results. Takata
also stated they would increase their production of replacement units
at their Monclova, Mexico plant by nearly a third. This increase would
result in an output of nearly 450,000 replacement airbags per month. Some
automakers, however, are refusing to wait that long to replace the airbags
for their customers. Takata's largest customer, Honda, has already
signed a deal with Autoliv to begin manufacturing replacement airbag parts.
BMW disclosed Takata would shift airbag production for the automaker's
vehicles to its plant in Germany. The CEO of Nissan declined to comment
on Takata's response to the airbag crisis.
Was Takata Aware of the Flaws in the Airbags?
According to a
New York Times report on November 7
th, Takata was fully aware of the potentially deadly defects associated with
their airbags years before papers were filed with federal regulators. The
Times stated Takata began secretly testing the airbags for flaws more than four
years before officials
claimed they were testing the airbags. The
Times also reported that after three months of testing the airbags in 2004,
Takata's internal research was abruptly halted and all research materials
destroyed. It remains to be seen just how widespread the Takata airbag
incident really is. To find out whether your car is one of the millions
affected, you can go to
http://www.safercar.gov/Vehicle+Owners/vin-lookup-sites and enter your car's VIN number.