Takata chief apologises for airbag deaths

26 Jun 2015


For the first time since the deadly defects in airbags made by his family's company came to be known, the reclusive chief executive of the Japanese supplier went public with the issue on yesterday. Though he offered an apology, he said Takata's products were fundamentally safe.

''I apologize from my heart to those who have died or been injured,'' the chief executive, Shigehisa Takada, said after bowing deeply in a show of remorse. ''I feel a heavy responsibility.''

However, Takada, the 49-year-old grandson of the company's founder, offered no explanation for his silence and absence during the crisis as it built up over more than a year.

Even after Toyota and Nissan said yesterday that they would recall 2.86 million more vehicles equipped with Takata airbags than earlier announced, Takada dismissed suggestions for his resignation over what had become the largest automobile safety recall in history.

The recall had so far involved 35 million vehicles globally.

About 32 million cars were subject to recall for potentially defective airbags, with the problem being blamed for at least eight deaths and over 100 injuries.

Takada had nothing new to say about the nature of the defects, though he claimed that Takata was making slow progress with its investigation.

''I feel sorry our products hurt customers, despite the fact that we are a supplier of safety products.''

Takata would continue the use ammonium nitrate as the propellant that inflated its air bags through a chemical reaction, according to Takata senior vice president Hiroshi Shimizu. The company had produced over 200 million inflators that used the material, which at least one automaker had flagged over safety.

In a related development, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said this week it was switching suppliers to replace driver-side air bag inflators made by Takata in over 4 million recalled vehicles.

According to Scott Kunselman, FCA's head of vehicle safety for North America, who spoke at a Senate hearing in Washington, the decision was related to choosing a safe chemical propellant instead of Takata's ammonium nitrate.

Meanwhile, Takata, carmakers and regulators had still not been able to establish the root cause behind why the company's air bag inflators were rupturing and shattering metal and plastic parts.

The company said it believed replacement air-bag components it was making were safe.

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