U.S. says Takata response to nationwide air bag recall order 'disappointing'

Tue Dec 2, 2014 11:27pm EST
 
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By Ben Klayman and Chang-Ran Kim

DETROIT/TOKYO (Reuters) - U.S. auto safety regulators said Takata Corp's response to an order to expand a recall nationwide was "disappointing", criticizing the Japanese auto parts supplier for shirking responsibility over its potentially deadly air bags.

Takata, at the center of a global recall of more than 16 million cars in the past six years, had until Tuesday to respond to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) order to expand a regional recall and replace driver-side air bags from across the United States.

Takata has not made its response to NHTSA public, but a spokeswoman in Tokyo said the contents echoed a statement by the company's chief executive on Tuesday. In that statement, Shigehisa Takada left the decision for a nationwide recall up to automakers, and made no mention of whether Takata was admitting that its air bag inflators were defective, as ordered by NHTSA last week.

"Takata shares responsibility for keeping drivers safe, and we believe anything short of a national recall does not live up to that responsibility," NHTSA said in an email to Reuters. The regulator said it would review Takata's response to determine its next steps.

In ordering a nationwide recall last week, NHTSA said it could begin steps to fine Takata up to $7,000 per vehicle not recalled, as well as force a recall. The maximum penalty under current law is $35 million.

At least five deaths have been linked to Takata inflators, which can explode with excessive force and shoot shrapnel inside cars. Takata faces a criminal probe, more than 20 class action lawsuits, and congressional scrutiny over its inflators. The company supplies around a fifth of the world's air bags.

Japanese government officials have expressed concern that Takata's repeated recalls could dent the reputation of the country's auto industry. One official, who asked not to be named, said it would be "disastrous" for Takata not to comply with NHTSA's demand.

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A billboard advertisement of Takata Corp is pictured in Tokyo in this September 17, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/Files