TOKYO (Reuters) - Takata Corp, the Japanese auto parts maker at the center of a global vehicle recall, ordered its technicians to destroy results of tests on some of its air bags after finding cracks in air bag inflators, the New York Times said on Friday.
The tests were carried out on the inflators - steel canisters that contain an explosive used to inflate the bags in a collision - after an accident in 2004 when an inflator in a Honda Accord exploded, ejecting metal fragments and injuring the driver, it said.
Citing two former Takata employees, the newspaper said Takata retrieved 50 airbags from scrap yards for tests not long after the accident. Instead of alerting U.S. federal safety regulators to the possible danger, Takata executives ordered the technicians to destroy the test data, the paper said.
Takata had no immediate comment on the report, which sent the company’s shares down as much as 4.7 percent.
Takata has been beset by chronic problems with defective inflators in its air bags, which can explode with excessive force and spray metal shards. The air bags, used by many leading car makers, are the focus of a U.S. regulatory probe and have prompted the recall of some 17 million cars worldwide in the past six years, and more could follow.
The unnamed ex-employees told the New York Times that the test result in 2004 was so startling that engineers began designing possible fixes to prepare for a recall. The tests, supervised by Takata’s then-vice president for engineering Al Bernat, were done in the summer of 2004 at Takata’s U.S. headquarters in Michigan, they said.
After three months, an order came to halt the testing and destroy the data, including video and computer backups, the former employees told the paper.
The tests were conducted four years before Takata said in regulatory filings that it first tested the problematic air bags, according to the paper.
Takata, which has 22 percent of the global market for air bag inflators, on Thursday warned of a bigger full-year loss, and again apologized for the repeated recalls.
Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim and Mari Saito; Editing by Edwina Gibbs, Mark Bendeich and Ian Geoghegan