Takata hires top US ex-officials amid recall pressure

US Air Force First Lieutenant Stephanie Erdman testifying before a Senate hearing on "Examining Takata Airbag Defects and the Vehicle Recall Process" in Washington in Nov 20, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
US Air Force First Lieutenant Stephanie Erdman testifying before a Senate hearing on "Examining Takata Airbag Defects and the Vehicle Recall Process" in Washington in Nov 20, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Japan's Takata Corp said on Dec 2 that it had recruited several former senior US transport officials to advise the company as it comes under rising pressure over its faulty airbags.

But it fell short of meeting a demand by the United States auto safety regulator to implement a sweeping nationwide recall by Tuesday of cars equipped with its airbags, blamed for several deaths and numerous injuries in accidents.

A day before the company's top quality official faces a new grilling in a congressional hearing, Takata chairman Shigehisa Takada said it had hired three former US transportation secretaries to advise it on manufacturing reforms and dealing with current airbag issues.

In a statement released ahead of Wednesday's hearing by an Energy and Commerce subcommittee of the House of Representatives, Mr Takada said the company was boosting efforts to resolve the problems and demonstrate its commitment to safety.

"We have expended extraordinary resources to respond to the reports of inflator ruptures. Our engineers have conducted a top-to-bottom review of our manufacturing procedures and exhaustive analyses of potential root causes," he said in the statement.

"As Takata's chairman, however, I know we can and must do more," he said.

The company has recruited former White House chief of staff and transportation secretary Samuel Skinner to lead an independent panel to audit its manufacturing procedures, blamed for the airbag problems.

Takata airbags have been shown to release with overly explosive force sending shrapnel into a car's passengers, with at least five deaths linked to the problem.

Mr Takada said that it has also appointed former transportation secretaries Rodney Slater and Norman Mineta to "advise the company as we address the current challenges we face".

Takata is facing both civil suits and criminal investigations over the airbag problems.

It also faces a potential US$35 million (S$45.8 million) fine from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for not responding to the regulator's Nov 26 demand for a national recall of driver-side frontal air bags.

Mr Takada acknowledged the push to expand current regional-based recalls, but said only that the company "remains committed to cooperating closely with our customers and NHTSA" to address the problems.

In his prepared testimony for Wednesday's hearing, NHTSA deputy administrator David Friedman reiterated the national recall demand.

But he acknowledged that the situation is more complicated than most auto recalls because the Takata airbags have had several different problems over the past six years.

"To date, there have been multiple issues leading to recalls involving 10 auto manufacturers and over 10 million vehicles since 2008, more than eight million of these vehicles remained unrepaired as of October 2014," Mr Friedman said.

"As we find evidence supporting the need to expand the regional recalls or to move to a national recall of all Takata air bags, we will use all of our authority as necessary to ensure that such a recall takes place."