Congress Castigates Corporation – Again
The U. S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation released a scathing report yesterday detailing Takata’s deplorable safety practices. It cites internal emails in which executives decided to halt safety audits of its plants to save money. The committee held another hearing on Takata’s devastating corporate conduct today – the fourth time Congress has met over the air bag fiasco in the last eight months.
Takata Altered Airbag Design To Save $2.00 Per Unit
Takata began recalling millions of vehicles that contained defective airbags last year. By May that number had reached 34 million automobiles, making it the largest auto recall in history. One out of every seven vehicles in the United States is affected.
The problem arose when the company made the fateful decision to use a cheaper propellant in its airbag canisters. The new propellant was highly volatile and often exploded, sending metal shrapnel flying into the cabin of the vehicle. The flying fragments killed at least eight people and injured hundreds of others. The new propellant cost the company $2.00 less per unit.
Profit Outweighed Concerns about Safety
Honda recalled a small number of its vehicles to replace defective airbags in 2008. A year later, Takata stopped global safety audits of its factories, citing costs, even though auditors had witnessed serious lapses in quality control at its facilities in Monclova, Mexico and Moses Lake, Washington. Internal emails indicate that the company restarted its audits in 2011. Auditors found such safety violations as leaving propellant on the floor, and thus at risk of moisture contamination that rendered the substance unstable.
Takata claims that the emails refer to workers’ safety, not automobile safety. This is impossible to believe. The emails reveal the appalling attitude that allowed dangerous airbags to remain on the roads for 15 years. That the company would place profits ahead of the lives and health of its workers reflects its utter indifference toward human life.
NHSTA Lapses Also Cited in Senate Committee Report
The report also criticized the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration for failing to take prompt action against the airbag maker. According to the report, had NHSTA “promptly undertaken more aggressive steps to investigate the airbag ruptures, it is possible that this defect could have been addressed years earlier.”
At today’s hearing, senators castigated the agency for failing to act. Senator John Thune, R-SD, noted that the American public is suffering from “recall fatigue and confusion.” Here is the latest list of recalled vehicles: safercar.org
These broken vehicles, recalls, and corporate denials have been going over for more than a decade. Takata, on the one hand, had revenues of $4.5 billion last year. NHTSA, on the other, only has one person reviewing over 80,000 consumer complaints each year and is obviously vastly underfunded. Even so, it is high time that our government safety officials start doing their jobs and protect the public.