Fixing Takata fiasco must become top priority
The Takata airbag crisis continues to mushroom into the largest safety recall disaster in auto industry history. That’s no small feat just a year after the General Motors ignition switch scandal.
This is the auto industry at its absolute worst -- both in Japan and in the U.S.
The industry knew as far back as 2008 that Takata’s airbags were highly questionable. Reuters documented much of this in a standout investigative report published in January 2014.
Yet it took until this week for Takata to finally admit that its airbags were defective and could potentially shoot shrapnel into a vehicle’s cabin during an accident.
The roots of this crisis -- just like the GM ignition switch debacle -- date back more than a decade.
Automotive News reported in 1998 how Takata was changing its formula for airbag propellants. When Takata engineers told a customer about the change, the answer was “Are you crazy? What are you talking about?”
You can’t make this stuff up.
So here we are 17 years later wondering whether Takata indeed went crazy with its airbag designs many years ago. And sources told Bloomberg this week that Takata quietly made changes to the chemical mixes in its airbag propellants in 2008.
All told, as many as 54 million vehicles with Takata airbags have been slated for recall globally since 2008, according to Reuters estimates. The latest planned U.S. recall will impact 34 million vehicles, federal safety regulators said. At least six people have been killed by these airbags and dozens more injured.
This is more than the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can handle. The agency’s website crashed this week handling the onslaught of consumers checking to see whether their vehicles were included in the recall.
It’s more than Takata itself can handle. Takata has proved over and over again that it is incapable of dealing with this crisis under the public spotlight.
So the industry as a whole needs to step up, work together and do whatever it takes to save lives.
Every automaker that has used Takata airbags -- that’s at least 11 companies -- should form a task force with U.S. and Japanese regulators and trade groups to solve this problem. Many of them already have been meeting to find the elusive root cause of this problem. But more needs to be done:
The cause of this problem needs to be pinpointed and fixed as soon as possible.
- One reliable central clearinghouse website needs to be created for consumers to get the information they need about the recall.
- Victims with potential claims should be treated in the same way as GM’s ignition switch claimants, with a private, expedited process to avoid costly court litigation.
- All airbag suppliers should be paid immediately to expand capacity to build more airbags at a faster pace. This may take extra money in plant investments. Who pays for it? The customers.
- Honda, Toyota and other Takata customers need to consider their options for future dealings with Takata. Can Takata’s current ownership and management be trusted going forward?
- Ongoing criminal probes and civil litigation need to be completed.
- A national multimedia advertising campaign should be launched warning the public about the need to replace Takata airbags.
Much work remains to be done. The long-term damage to the industry’s reputation can’t even be quantified yet. It’s time for the industry to finally make this crisis a top priority. Many more lives are at risk.
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