Honda is giving its long-time business partner, a company it also partially owns and urged to get into the airbag business to begin with, the boot. Wednesday, Honda dropped Takata as a supplier of airbag inflaters, following a massive recall over defective airbags linked to at least eight deaths, all in Honda vehicles. Honda says none of its new car models under development will use the Takata airbag inflators.
The move is a very unusual one between Japanese business partners, especially given the fact that Honda is basically the reason Takata ever started producing airbags in the first place. According to a Reuters article published in 2014, the man who was leading Honda’s new airbag program in the 1980s talked the company into getting producing airbags, after the company initially said it would not do so due because airbag safety was too risky. Takata was originally in the woven-cloth business that branched out into seatbelts.
Wednesday, Takata’s current chief, Shigehisa Takada, said at a news conference that he continued to believe that the company’s inflater technology was fundamentally safe. Honda hasn’t made a decision about the 1.2 percent of Takata’s stock it still owns, making it one of the company’s largest single shareholders.
Meanwhile, Tuesday, U.S. auto safety regulators fined Takata up to $200 million for mishandling the way airbag recall. It’s the largest civil penalty ever handed down by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. U.S. officials say they are also acting to speed up the process to protect millions of Americans still driving vehicles equipped with them. As of October, the NHTSA said that less than a quarter of the affected cars in U.S. had been repaired. The NHTSA released this video of an airbag rupturing during testing.
In addition to the fines that start at $70 million, the government says Takata must stop selling inflators that use an ammonium nitrate propellant linked to the deaths and to nearly 100 injuries caused by ruptured air bags that send shrapnel flying. If it doesn’t come up with a plan to get rid of the chemical believed to have caused the incidents, or doesn’t help speed up recall plans, the fine could shoot up to $200 million.
“For years Takata has built and sold defective inflators, refused to acknowledge the defect, and supplied inaccurate and misleading information, putting millions of Americans at risk,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “American drivers should not have to worry that a device designed to save their life might actually take it.”