Takata Airbag Rupture Not Reported in 2003, Early Test Results Altered: Report

According to the findings of an internal investigation by Takata, which manufactured millions of defective and dangerous inflators that have caused airbags to rupture in recent years, resulting in severe injuries and death, the company failed to inform U.S. regulators about problems as early as 2003. Takata also reportedly failed to disclose to auto makers that it had problems validating the airbag inflators when they were first developed in 2000, and the company may have altered test results. 

In the U.S., Takata airbag recalls have affected nearly 70 million vehicles sold by many major auto makers. The airbags are prone to overinflate and rupture, potentially causing shrapnel and other dangerous debris to fly into the passenger compartment. Takata airbag ruptures have been blamed for at least 14 deaths and more than 100 severe injuries.

Last week, an internal report (PDF) revealed that Takata did not inform the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of an airbag rupture that occurred in 2003, in Switzerland. NHTSA officials said that the incident should have been reported, but was not.

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Takata’s investigation found that the inflator linked to the airbag rupture was not produced within the production period of other inflators that have been linked to airbag explosions. The report also found that Takata had problems confirming that the inflators were safe as far back as 2000, when they were first being developed.

“Takata encountered difficulties during the production validation testing of the original PSDI, PSPI, and SPI inflators in 2000,” the report states. “[T]hese difficulties included failures to meet certain PV specifications prescribed by the vehicle manufacturer, and in a few instances, these failures involved ruptures of inflators. The final versions of PV test reports that were provided to the customers omitted these test failures or included substituted or altered test results, as Takata commenced production of these inflators in the summer of 2000.”

The report came as part of a settlement agreement with the NHTSA, following a November 2015 consent order. The agreement requires Takata to cooperate with the agency in all future actions involving the recall investigation, and demands that the NHTSA be head controller of the recall campaigns in the U.S., granting the agency exclusive control in organizing and prioritizing the recall process to speed up the repairs. In addition, the NHTSA fined Takata $200 million.

The recalled Takata airbag inflators pose a serious risk, with many vehicles remaining on the road. Many first responders describe horrific injuries among those impaled by the debris shot out of the airbag.

Nearly every major automaker has been impacted by the recalls, including Honda, General Motors, Ford, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Chrysler (FCA), Mazda, Toyota, and various others.

The efforts to repair vehicles with recalled airbag inflators have faced an uphill climb, as additional recalls continue to be issued, adding more and more vehicles to the list.

Under the consent order, the NHTSA ordered Takata to stop manufacturing phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate propellant inflators that investigators believe are the root cause of the problems. Investigators from the agency have insisted the inflators ammonium nitrate based propellants are unstable when exposed to high humidity causing them to rupture either spontaneously or when needed in automobile crashes.

The ammonium nitrate based inflators have been found to pose explosion risks under certain conditions, unlike normal inflators. Investigations by the NHTSA have identified the inflators are more susceptible to explode in more humid climates, mainly southern regions of the U.S. that are closer to the equator. The NHTSA has specifically stated that the ammonium nitrate based propellants may not be suitable for inflator designs due to the unknown effects of climate impact.


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