Takata defends actions over faulty airbags

Senior Takata executive Hiroshi Shimizu (above) on Thursday defended the embattled Japanese auto parts firm's actions before a US Senate panel investigating an airbag fault tied to several deaths and hundreds of injuries. -- PHOTO: AFP
Senior Takata executive Hiroshi Shimizu (above) on Thursday defended the embattled Japanese auto parts firm's actions before a US Senate panel investigating an airbag fault tied to several deaths and hundreds of injuries. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A senior Takata executive defended the embattled Japanese auto parts firm's actions Thursday before a US Senate panel investigating an airbag fault tied to several deaths and hundreds of injuries.

Hiroshi Shimizu, Takata's senior vice-president for global quality assurance, said his company took responsibility for three US deaths related to what he labelled "anomalies" in its airbags.

But he did not expand that acceptance of responsibility to a broader series of airbags installed for a decade in millions of cars from 10 major manufacturers.

And he did not agree with a call earlier this week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for a full nationwide recall of cars with the suspect Takata airbags.

Takata is accused of knowing for years about the problem, in which its airbags can misfire and send shrapnel into a car's passengers, and of having covered up its own tests showing dangerous faults.

"We are deeply sorry about each of the reported instances in which a Takata airbag has not performed as designed and the driver or passenger had suffered personal injuries or deaths," Shimizu told the Senate Commerce Committee.

"While each instance of an airbag failure is terrible and unacceptable to Takata, it is also important to remember that Takata airbags continue to deploy properly as they were designed in accidents".

"We recognise the three victims' cases are related to our product, but to my understanding, two others are under investigation."

Shimizu admitted that the company had in the past discovered two problems with some of its airbags, regarding propellant pressure and humidity control.

But he insisted that every time an "anomaly" appeared, the company addressed it, and that its airbags are now safe.

Witnesses who appeared before the panel, which earlier this year blasted General Motors for its negligent handling of a deadly faulty ignition problem, included a woman who lost sight in her right eye from shrapnel from a Takata airbag in her Honda.

"My accident involved a moderate frontal impact. The headlights on the front of the vehicle weren't broken. My passenger had mild scrapes and bruises," said Stephanie Erdman.

"I should not been injured the way I was."

US automakers and Takata continue to resist making a sweeping nationwide recall of cars at risk, after having limited recalls so far this year to a few southern states where heat and humidity could raise the chances of a dangerous airbag deployment.