US fines Takata for stonewalling airbag probe

NEW YORK (AFP) - US regulators Friday fined Japanese auto parts manufacturer Takata US$14,000 (S$19,000) a day, accusing it of stonewalling the investigation into the company's defective airbags.

Takata failed to fully respond to regulator requests to explain some 2.4 million pages of company documents supplied in the probe, or to provide knowledgeable staff a "walk-through" of the papers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said.

"Takata is neither being forthcoming with the information that it is legally obligated to supply, nor is it being cooperative in aiding NHTSA's ongoing investigation of a potentially serious safety defect," the NHTSA said in a letter to Takata.

About 20 million vehicles produced by some of the world's biggest automakers are being recalled due to the risk their Takata-made airbags could deploy with excessive explosive power, spraying potentially fatal shrapnel into the vehicle.

The problem has been linked to at least five deaths globally.

US regulations require Takata to explain documents that are not self-explanatory. Vincent said the company's failure to provide adequate explanations over several months made a Feb 4 meeting with the company "a waste of agency time and resources."

Takata said it was "surprised and disappointed" by the NHTSA's statement.

"We strongly disagree with their characterisation that we have not been fully cooperating with them," it added.

Takata said it has released almost 2.5 million pages of documents to NHTSA in response to the agency's orders, that it has been "in regular communication" with NHTSA staff on additional documents and that it has met regularly with NHTSA engineers to try to understand the root cause of the airbag programme.

"We remain fully committed to cooperating with NHTSA in the interests of advancing auto safety for the driving public," the company added.

Takata also said it has been working closely with automakers to accelerate regions in areas it beloves are most vulnerable.

Takata believes the airbag problem surfaces in humid, hotter regions and resisted the NHTSA's call for a national recall of cars.

Takata will be fined a civil penalty of US$14,000 a day starting Friday for each day the violations persists, Vincent said.

He warned the company that the NHTSA could force depositions of Takata employees in both the US and in Japan if the company did not cooperate fully in "short order".

He also said it could refer the matter to the US Department of Justice for court action.

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