Airbag Maker Takata Believed to have Conducted Secret Tests on Airbags


The New York Times reports that two former Takata employees say that the company secretly conducted tests on 50 airbags in 2004. These employees claim that two of the 50 airbags tested had their steel inflators crack during testing, which can lead to a rupture of the inflator and failure of the airbag in a crash.


The former employees stated that the result was so startling, that engineers began designing possible fixes in preparation for a recall. However, instead of alerting federal safety regulators to the possible danger, Takata executives discounted the results and ordered the lab technicians to delete the testing data from their computers and dispose of the airbag inflators in the trash.


The secret tests, which have not been previously disclosed, were performed after normal work hours and on weekends and holidays during summer 2004 at Takata's American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, the former employees said. This testing took place four years before Takata, in regulatory filings, says that it first tested the problematic airbags. The results from the later tests led to the first recall over airbag rupture risks in November 2008.


Today, 11 automakers have recalled more than 14 million vehicles worldwide because of the rupture risks. Four deaths have been tied to the defect, which can cause the airbag's steel canister to crack and explode into pieces when the device deploys in a crash. The airbags are inflated by means of a propellant, based on a common compound used in fertilizer that is encased in the canister which together is known as the inflator.


The article also highlights manufacturing quality control issues that arose as Takata struggled to keep up with demand for its airbags. Emails show workers raising concerns that airbag units were being delivered to automakers wet or damaged because of transportation mishaps. Closed-circuit television footage shows forklifts dropping stacks of the airbag units.


Complaints received by regulators about various automakers blame Takata airbags for at least 139 injuries, including 37 people who reported airbags that ruptured or spewed metal or chemicals. Takata is one of the world's largest suppliers of airbags, accounting for about one-fifth of the global market.