Faulty Takata airbags have so far been linked to ten deaths and over 100 injuries. The airbag inflators, which rely on unstable ammonium nitrate, can over-pressurize and cause the metal casing to explode outward. This acts like shrapnel from a bomb, exploding inside the cab of the vehicle.
As investigations and legal proceedings unfold, the evidence increasingly shows that Takata was aware of these dangers from the very beginning and actively tried to cover them up. Even employees who wanted to follow up on internal safety testing were prevented from doing so. Some of the most damning evidence to date came out recently in a pre-trial hearing for a lawsuit against Takata. The plaintiff in the suit was paralyzed in a 2014 car accident, allegedly due to an overly forceful deployment of the air bag.
The pre-trial evidentiary hearing included a deposition by a former Takata air bag engineer. That deposition and other evidence revealed the following:
- Takata likely knew about the rupture problems as far back as 2000, just after the company began using ammonium nitrate as a propellant
- Internal safety tests showed a significant rate of failures, but these negative results were omitted and/or altered when the data was presented to Honda (Takata’s biggest customer)
- The air bag engineer (providing a deposition) wanted to study the parts that had failed in the internal tests, but they had been discarded on orders from the vice president for engineering
- Similar test results continued to be doctored in subsequent reports to Honda, including one in 2007
When asked whether the eventual deaths and injuries came as a surprise to him, the former engineer said no. He added: “I didn’t think it would take so long for the failures to show up. It took a lot longer than I thought.”
It is hard to understand how a company could ignore and even cover up evidence showing that its products were dangerous. But sadly, stories like this now seem to be the norm after a major automotive recall. Unless auto companies and parts suppliers are held accountable for their actions, this behavior will no doubt continue.