Years from now, automotive historians will agree that Takata Corp.'s fate in the U.S. was sealed during a congressional hearing on Dec. 3, 2014.
One hour into the hearing, Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., leaned toward his microphone, stared at the witness from Takata and asked: "How many more people will die before you issue a national recall?"
Moments later, Long threw a second rhetorical haymaker, offhandedly remarking that owning a vehicle with Takata airbags "is tantamount to driving down the highway with a shotgun aimed at you from behind the steering wheel."
When a conservative Republican lawmaker channels Ralph Nader, it's a safe bet that Takata has no friends in Washington.
As the hearing progressed, other Republicans piled on. For example, Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., called Takata's response to NHTSA "tendentious, argumentative and not particularly helpful."
In fact, not one Republican defended Takata. That fact was not lost on David Friedman, NHTSA deputy administrator.
Friedman has figured out that there's no downside if he goes after Takata. Democrats want him to do it; Republicans want him to do it. He will only be criticized if he isn't aggressive enough.
The House panel listened approvingly when Friedman said he would hire an independent engineering firm to test the inflators. And members asked what steps he could take to force a nationwide recall.
It will be interesting to see whether these hearings translate into a bigger budget for defect investigations. NHTSA has just nine employees to review the 75,000 complaints it receives each year. The agency budgets only $10 million a year for defect investigations, a pitifully small sum to plumb the mysteries of defective ignition switches or exploding inflators.
Mark Rosekind, President Barack Obama's nominee to run NHTSA, undoubtedly will press Congress for a bigger staff and budget. Given Washington's toxic atmosphere, it would be foolish to assume he'll get his wish. But Takata shouldn't draw much comfort from that.
Takata is in Friedman's cross hairs, and Congress is urging him to pull the trigger.