Exclusive: Takata engineers struggled to maintain air bag quality, documents reveal

Fri Oct 17, 2014 9:10pm EDT
 
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By Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein, Ben Klayman and Yoko Kubota

MEXICO CITY/DETROIT/TOKYO (Reuters) - Manufacturing problems with Takata Corp 7312.T air bags go beyond what the Tokyo-based company has disclosed to U.S. safety regulators about why the devices are at risk of exploding with dangerous force, according to internal company documents reviewed by Reuters.

Takata has cooperated with an investigation begun in June by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigators into whether its air bags contain a defect in the inflator - the device at the core of the air bag that allows it to inflate in a fraction of a second in the event of a crash to protect vehicle occupants.

Specifically, NHTSA has been looking in part at whether some Takata air bag inflators made between 2000 and 2007 were improperly sealed, a flaw that could expose the explosive material inside and cause the air bag to blow apart in an accident. That investigation has focused on inflators recovered from cars being recalled for repairs in hot and humid places like Florida. Takata is cooperating with that investigation along with nine automakers.

Dozens of internal Takata engineering reports, presentations and copies of emails reviewed by Reuters show the company struggled to meet its own standards for safety in manufacturing air bag inflators for a decade until 2011 - four years beyond the period now under investigation by U.S. safety regulators.

The documents also show Takata's engineers at its flagship inflator plant near Monclova, Mexico tracked a range of problems that they believed could have prevented inflators from being sealed air-tight at the factory and could have caused them to fail in accidents.

"DEFECTOS"

Among the problems recorded by Takata engineers: inflators that were improperly welded or sealed because of mistakes by workers at the Monclova plant or - in one case - because Takata had been using the wrong kind of steel tube, according to the documents.   Continued...

 
A sign board of Japanese auto parts maker Takata Corp's Annual General Meeting is seen on a street near the venue in Tokyo June 26, 2014.  REUTERS/Yuya Shino