WASHINGTON, D.C. – Employee emails sounded dire warnings about safety and quality lapses years before Takata Corp. would fully acknowledge the threat posed by its defective airbags.
The emails in question are among some 13,000 documents gathered by the Senate Commerce Committee as part of its ongoing investigation into defective airbags that so far have been linked to at least eight deaths and more than 100 injuries worldwide.
They are cited by minority staff of the commerce panel who have produced a new report in the probe, as the full panel prepares to hear from Takata and federal regulators at a hearing tomorrow morning.
“The more evidence we see, the more it paints a troubling picture of a manufacturer that lacked concern,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the top Democrat on the Commerce Committee.
Among the minority report’s other key findings:
- · An unknown number of replacement parts might be defective as well.
- · Despite being in the midst of what would become the largest auto recall in U.S. history, an April 2011 email from a Takata senior vice president noted that “Global safety audits had stopped for financial reasons for last 2 years.”
- · Federal regulators failed to “promptly investigate” early reports of the defective airbags.
"Had Takata maintained a more robust culture of safety, it is likely that many of these defects could have been discovered much sooner," the report concluded. "Similarly, had NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) promptly undertaken more aggressive steps to investigate the Takata airbag ruptures, it is possible that this defect could have been addressed years earlier."
One glaring safety warning, highlighted in the report, is a 2011 email exchange between a supervisor at the company’s Monclova, Mexico plant and a quality engineer.
“We cannot be faced with findings / defects of this sort and NOT do ANYTHING,” the supervisor wrote about improperly welded inflators. “A part that is not welded = one life less, which shows we are not fulfilling the mission.”
The engineer echoed those concerns. “we are in a very critical situation because of the most recent problems that we have detected on the line,” he wrote. “Situations like this can give rise to a Recall.”
In addition to the findings, the minority report includes a number of policy recommendations aimed at protecting consumers and strengthening oversight of vehicle defects. They include: increasing civil penalties for safety violations; enhancing independent testing of vehicle defects; enacting stronger incentives for whistle blowers to report safety problems; improving recall completion rates; and, providing loaner or rental vehicles to car owners affected by recalls.