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From Products Liability Law Daily, February 25, 2016

Senate Commerce Committee minority staff finds Takata manipulated airbag inflator test data

By John Dumoulin.

As part of an ongoing Senate investigation into defective Takata airbag inflators, the minority staff of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation (Commerce Committee) has found widespread manipulation of airbag inflator test data by the company, according to a committee press release. The release said some of the test data manipulation by Takata occurred after recalls of the airbag inflators began (Senate Commerce Committee Press ReleaseFebruary 23, 2016).

Commerce Committee ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla) revealed the new findings on the Senate floor on February 23, saying the committee investigators had reviewed thousands of Takata documents and emails going back more than a decade. These findings update a report Nelson released in June 2015 maintaining that Takata had known for years that there were serious production and testing issues.

Released documents. The committee’s press release highlighted several documents, which were included in the report addendum. Included in the documents is a memorandum from a 2005 regarding the PSDI-5 airbag inflator from an airbag production engineer warning that “the integrity of validation reports … is in serious question.” The PSDI-5 inflator was the subject of recalls in May 2015 and January 2016 affecting more than 4 million inflators.

Another of the released documents was a 2006 email from a Takata engineering manager that claimed testing reports were “cherry picked” and a Takata employee was “schmoozed” to accept deviations in the data. In addition, a 2010 presentation documenting deficiencies in an experimental inflator maintained that “TKJ [Takata Japan] was informed of these results, but altered them and reported good results to Honda.”

The release also mentioned 2013 notes from a Takata director claiming he had told a company 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. According to the release, the director expressed these concerns more than four years after the first recall of Takata airbags, but the vice president did not take action.

Recommendations. According to the release, the report’s addendum made three recommendations regarding the Takata airbag recall process. These 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.

Response of Blumenthal and Markey. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) issued a statement in response to recent developments regarding the Takata air bag recalls, including the Commerce Committee report and reports that up to 90 million additional vehicles may be recalled.

In the statement, the senators said, “We have no faith in Takata. A company that would manipulate test results is a company that would lie to regulators—and may have for years.” Stating that “there may be an additional 70 million to 90 million vehicles with potentially lethal airbags currently on the road,” the senators said “we must take action now to get all Takata airbags off the road.” The statement went on to say that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “must accelerate the recall of these dangerous airbags.”

The senators previously expressed concerns with NHTSA’s limited recalls and testing of Takata airbags and have called on Takata to recall all vehicles with ammonium nitrate-based airbags. They also wrote to President Obama earlier this month urging him to recall all vehicles using such airbags.

Companies: TK Holdings, Inc. (Takata)

MainStory: TopStory MotorVehiclesNews

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