NHTSA Fines Takata $70 Million, Accepts Payment over the Next Five Years

Deployed airbag 1 photo
The automotive world has been brimming with all sorts of scandals lately, each more disgusting than the other. The Takata defective airbag recall that became one of the biggest in history is definitely one of them, and it seems that it won't come to an end anytime soon.
The US Department of Transportation, the agency that controls the NHTSA, has just announced that the Japanese airbag manufacturer will be fined $70 million for its failure to manufacture and handle safe units for over 30 million cars.

However, unlike what we’ve seen in the General Motors or Toyota scandal, for example, Takata will get to pay the penalty over the next five years, an unusual move to say the least. No reason for this delay has been offered, but sources claim that the circumstances of the events that led to the fines were different, hence the different approach.

Anyway, the US DOT also said that things could get gradually worse if the manufacturer doesn’t respect the conditions imposed via an order signed on Tuesday. Failure to comply will lead to an added amount of $130 million to the original $70 million.

While it may all seem a bit harsh, the reality is that Takata was more than reluctant to work with the authorities on this case. As a matter of fact, the fine we’re talking about today is just a follow-up to what happened this past February, when the NHTSA fined the company $14,000 per day for not providing the information they needed to perform their investigation.

Furthermore, the Japanese didn’t report the issue their airbags had to the authorities, even though they had known about them for several days. To make sure this doesn’t happen again, the NHTSA forced the company to set up an employee whistleblower system and appoint a chief safety officer to its board of management.

As such, the total number of cars recalled in the US alone stands at 23 million today, spread between 11 manufacturers. The problem was first brought to the attention of the public by Honda back in 2008, some four years after the carmaker first learned that there might be something wrong with the airbags.

No more phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate airbags without desiccant

The problem with the defective units was that the chemical mixture that was used to set off the airbags in case of an accident would absorb moisture and, in turn, deploy them with more force than needed.

This was possible because the phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate used for such purposes didn’t also include desiccant, a special moisture-absorbing chemical. Takata was also ordered to stop manufacturing inflators without desiccant by the end of 2017. By the end of 2018, the same course of action must be adopted for passenger-side and side airbag inflators.

However, that solves only half the problem, and the risk still exists. The main issue is that, for some reason, Takata has been allowed to keep manufacturing replacement airbags with the same composition until then. The replacements installed inside recalled cars are using the same recipe and nobody is saying anything about it.

According to the NHTSA, the Japanese are allowed to manufacture these replacement parts only if no more reports of ruptures come out. The decision was made so that the defective units are taken off the streets as soon as possible. Even so, the recall will spread over the next few years, until 2019 at the very least, according to experts in the field.

During this time, the company has the chance to find out exactly what the problem was and fix it once and for all. Furthermore, they must prove that their inflators are safe to use and that’s going to be tricky if they plan on using the same chemical recipe for them.


Following this decision and the overall terrible way in which Takata handled the scandal, Honda decided to drop it as its supplier, saying it was due to “misrepresented and manipulated test data.” This decision was made despite the fact that the carmaker kept the information about these defective airbags secret for four years, between 2004 and 2008.

Honda was Takata’s biggest client up until now, but that’s just one of the consequences of this scandal. All 11 automakers that are involved in the recall operation have been asked by the NHTSA to abide by a schedule that has them repair their cars by March 2016, for vehicles fitted with “highest-risk” inflators.

So far, at least seven people have died and a hundred more have been injured in the US alone because of the recalled units that can malfunction and shoot shrapnel through the airbag.
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