Honda has confirmed that a Takata airbag inflator ruptured during a July crash near Pittsburgh involving a 1991 Honda Accord, and that shrapnel from the rupture likely lead to the death of the young driver. This would be the ninth death linked to defective Takata airbag inflators. There have also been more than 100 reported serious injuries.
Takata airbag inflators have been recalled in almost 20 million vehicles worldwide. Click here for more information about the Takata recall. Takata airbag inflators can explode with too much force and spray metal shrapnel into the vehicle and passengers. In the Pittsburgh incident, the driver’s front airbag inflator ruptured and shot shrapnel into the driver. All of the nine reported deaths have been in Honda vehicles. Regulators have said that millions more Takata airbag inflators may need to be recalled unless Takata can prove that the propellant used in the regulators – ammonium nitrate – is safe.
Honda announced two months ago that it would no longer used Takata as a supplier of its airbags, alleging that Takata had “misrepresented and manipulated” testing data on the airbags. Since Honda’s announcement, newly obtained Takata emails show that the manipulation alleged by Honda was overt and far reaching. The emails were among documents unsealed recently as part of a personal injury lawsuit against Takata and obtained by The New York Times. The emails relate to the testing of airbag inflators containing the ammonium nitrate propellant.
“Happy Manipulating!!!” a Takata airbag engineer, Bob Schubert, wrote in one email dated July 6, 2006, in a reference to results of airbag tests. In another, he wrote of changing the colors or lines in a graphic “to divert attention” from the test results and “to try to dress it up.”
A former Takata engineer turned whistle-blower told the New York Times that these kinds of remarks by Takata engineers shows that this data manipulation is a systemic issue. Takata’s practice of manipulating airbag test results dates to at least 2000, just as the company began to introduce a new type of inflator.