Takata Defective Airbag President Steps Down

The Takata defective airbag debacle has potentially affected more than 7.8 million U.S. vehicles, as automakers scramble to replace frontal air bags on the driver's and/or passenger's side. Takata, a major parts supplier, sold the airbags which were installed on vehicles from model year 2002 to 2008. These airbags can deploy in an explosive manner, injuring or even killing the occupants of the vehicle.

According to a Nissan spokesperson, " The propellant could potentially deteriorate over time due to environmental factors, which could lead to over-aggressive combustion in the event of an airbag deployment." The airbags are particularly susceptible to error in high-humidity areas. When a defective airbag inflates in a crash, metal shards from the airbag may be sprayed throughout the passenger cabin. So far, there have been five fatalities and more than a hundred serious injuries linked to Takata airbags.

Stefan Stocker Steps Down

Very recently, Stefan Stocker, president of Takata stepped down, leaving Takata's chairman to determine how to respond to the recall of millions of vehicles with defective airbags. Stocker, a Swiss national and Takata's first foreign president, will remain with the company as a board member. Shigehisa Takada, grandson of the company founder, will retain his title as chairman and step into the role of president, vacated by Stocker. Stocker was hired last year to increase oversight in Takata's global operations. Takata, owned primarily by the founding family, has been widely criticized for the way it has handled the airbag safety crisis. The company now faces dozens of class action lawsuits, not to mention a U.S. criminal investigation. While there have been nearly 8 million Takata airbags recalled in the U.S., more than 24 million have been recalled worldwide.

Takata's Agreement, Automakers Response

Takata has agreed to take a 50 percent pay cut for four months in response to the airbag crisis; Stocker and three other senior staff members will also take a cut in pay for those four months, although the details of those pay cuts are sketchy. All the deaths associated with Takata airbags occurred in automobiles manufactured by Honda. General Motors has developed contingency plans to shift their business to other airbag manufacturers should the recall widen. In fact, GM intends to direct Takata to "share" manufacturing details with TRW and Autoliv so that replacement parts made by other airbag manufacturers would work with Takata airbags. According to a December 18 th statement, Ford is adding an additional 447,310 vehicles to the recall, bringing the company in compliance with the NHTSA's call for a nationwide recall.

Takata's Response

Takata maintains the aging of the airbags, particularly in regions with high humidity, is to blame for the potentially deadly results. Takata also stated they would increase their production of replacement units at their Monclova, Mexico plant by nearly a third. This increase would result in an output of nearly 450,000 replacement airbags per month. Some automakers, however, are refusing to wait that long to replace the airbags for their customers. Takata's largest customer, Honda, has already signed a deal with Autoliv to begin manufacturing replacement airbag parts. BMW disclosed Takata would shift airbag production for the automaker's vehicles to its plant in Germany. The CEO of Nissan declined to comment on Takata's response to the airbag crisis.

Was Takata Aware of the Flaws in the Airbags?

According to a New York Times report on November 7 th, Takata was fully aware of the potentially deadly defects associated with their airbags years before papers were filed with federal regulators. The Times stated Takata began secretly testing the airbags for flaws more than four years before officials claimed they were testing the airbags. The Times also reported that after three months of testing the airbags in 2004, Takata's internal research was abruptly halted and all research materials destroyed. It remains to be seen just how widespread the Takata airbag incident really is. To find out whether your car is one of the millions affected, you can go to http://www.safercar.gov/Vehicle+Owners/vin-lookup-sites and enter your car's VIN number.