Takata workers complain of test data manipulation
Takata workers appear to have been pressured to manipulate test data, both before and after the company’s airbag inflators were deemed defective, according to internal documents cited in a Senate investigation.
The supplier has reportedly acknowledged that workers fudged test results in 2000, though the company has denied that such practices may have affected the widespread recall campaigns. Internal documents cited in the Commerce Committee inquiry (PDF) suggest otherwise.
The correspondence points to a contentious relationship between Takata’s North American staff and Japan-based managers.
“[Process validation reports] were cherry picked and [redacted] was schmoozed to accept certain deviations,” an engineering manager wrote in an e-mail to a fellow engineering manager in 2006. “[Redacted] and [redacted] intimidated the shit out of [redacted] to ‘create’ these wonderful fictitious PV reports.”
A response further down the e-mail chain is even more revealing: “But the more important thing is our records, if we go back to our record we will find a lot of failures and if the customer request records or make an audit we will have a lot of failures (Some times 38% at week of failures).”
Takata has claimed both comments were not based on first-hand knowledge of the alleged data manipulation.
The Senate investigators appear to be troubled by other documents suggesting Takata continued to manipulate and falsify test data in 2010, two years after the first recalls and a year after two fatalities were blamed on ruptured inflators.
Regarding an experimental inflator design, one worker warned of “significantly variable hydro-burst, significantly reduced safety factor, and significant weld quality issues.”
“[Takata Japan] was informed of these results, but altered them and reported good results to Honda,” the presentation added. “Honda now wants to implement the design.”
Automakers and regulators have struggled to determine the extent of the defect, leading to slow rollout of recall campaigns in response to failures in the field or in the lab. One of the most recent deaths involved the driver-side airbag in a Ford Ranger. The decade-old pickup had already been listed in a campaign to replace its passenger-side inflator, however the driver-side component was not recalled until it had caused fatal injuries. Regulators are attempting to determine if such cases represent a genuine lack of data or intentional falsification and obfuscation.
A Takata director in 2013 sounded an alarm to a senior vice president, more than four years after the first recalls.
“”I told the group that it seemed clear to me that the information used to set the range of the recall was, in one case, technically unsupportable, and in the other case, a likely misrepresentation of the production records,” he wrote in his personal notes. “The basis for limiting the 2002 recall population is false. It is a blatant misrepresentation of the production records.”
The director explicitly warned that such practices “will either generate unnecessary recall population or fail to recall product that is suspected,” representing a “violation of our moral obligation to protect the public.”
Legislators have asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to demand a widespread recall of every ammonium nitrate airbag inflator produced by Takata. Approximately 29 million parts have been deemed defective so far. If the agency follows the advice, the overall tally could reportedly climb to 120 million.