Honda ran tests on fatal air bag flaw, frustrated by Takata reticence: sources

Tue Dec 16, 2014 10:37pm EST
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By Norihiko Shirouzu

TOKYO (Reuters) - Honda Motor Co (7267.T: Quote) was so concerned by mounting recalls for Takata (7312.T: Quote) air bags, and frustrated by its supplier's failure to explain why some have exploded, killing five people with shrapnel, that it bought used and scrapped cars in Japan to conduct its own tests.

Around 21 million vehicles have been recalled globally by automakers since 2008 for defective Takata inflators. Honda alone has recalled about 14 million cars, mostly in the United States, where four of the deaths occurred. The fifth was in Malaysia.

Two senior Honda insiders, who asked not to be named, said the tests on 100-150 Takata air bags at Honda's quality center near Utsunomiya, north of Tokyo, in the first half of this year indicated shortcomings in Takata's manufacturing quality and cast doubt on the competence of a company Honda considered part of its core group of suppliers, or 'keiretsu'.

“We doubted if Takata was producing air bags to the specifications we had mutually agreed on,” one of the insiders said. “When we did not receive a clear analysis of what was happening, we decided to conduct our own tests ... and we found the quality of those inflators to be all over the map in term of key quality metrics.”

Takata denied that Honda tested used air bags because it was dissatisfied with Takata’s explanations and said it had not been told of any quality problems found.

A Takata spokesman said: “If Honda did the kind of quality tests on Takata inflators you’re describing, wouldn’t you assume Honda would communicate with us, to ask us about the quality lapses they supposedly found? As far as we know, and we looked into it extensively, there has been no such communication between us.”

The Honda insiders said the tests did not identify the cause of the defect but led the company to believe manufacturing quality issues could have played a role.

Honda's chief spokesman Kaoru Tanaka confirmed that it conducts component quality tests at times when defects are suspected, but doesn't usually release the results or comment on specific tests.   Continued...

An airbag logo is seen on a steering wheel of Honda Motor Co's all-new hybrid sedan "Grace", which installed the airbag made by Takata Corp, during its unveiling event in Tokyo December 1, 2014. REUTERS/Toru Hanai