WASHINGTON, D.C. – An ongoing U.S. Senate investigation into defective Takata airbags has found widespread manipulation of airbag inflator test data by Takata employees, with some occurring after the recalls began.
The new findings, by the minority staff of the Commerce Committee, were unveiled today on the Senate floor by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the panel's ranking member. Nelson said committee investigators made the findings after reviewing thousands of company documents and emails dating back more than a decade.
“These new documents speak for themselves,” said Nelson. “There is no doubt in my mind that Takata failed to prioritize the safety of its products.”
Among the documents released today were:
A 2005 memorandum from an airbag production engineer the warned “the integrity of validation reports … is in serious question.” The engineer continued, “These are not trivial changes in that data clearly in violation of the customer spec is altered to meet the customer spec,” which he called “a clear misrepresentation of the facts.” The focus of this memo, the PSDI-5 inflator, was the subject of a recall in May 2015 and in January 2016, impacting more than 4 million inflators.
A 2006 email from a Takata engineering manager which claimed testing reports were “cherry picked” and a Takata employee was “schmoozed” to accept deviations in the data. The manager concluded that “It is yet another mess-o-[s—t] we will be handed with no real fix possible. The plant should have been screaming bloody murder long ago.”
A 2010 presentation documenting deficiencies in an experimental inflator that revealed, “TKJ [Takata Japan] was informed of these results, but altered them and reported good results to Honda.”
2013 notes from a company director explaining that he shared his view with Takata’s senior vice president of quality assurance that the range of an airbag recall might be a “violation of our moral obligation to protect the public” because it did not capture the right range of vehicles. The vice president failed to take action to address the concerns, which came more than four years after the first recall of Takata airbags.
Today’s findings update a report Nelson released last June showing Takata had known for years that there were serious production and testing issues.
The report addendum also made three recommendations for the Takata airbag recall process. They include: a phase-out of all Takata ammonium nitrate-based inflator production as soon as possible; accelerated production of non-ammonium nitrate-based replacement inflators; and, improved management of the recall process to avoid consumer confusion.