WASHINGTON — A new Congressional report on the Takata airbag crisis "paints a troubling picture of a manufacturer that lacked concern," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee.
"Danger Behind the Wheel: The Takata Airbag Crisis and How to Fix Our Broken Auto Recall Process" was released on Monday on the eve of a Senate hearing on Takata's defective airbag inflators that have been linked to eight deaths and more than 100 injuries.
The defective airbags can deploy with too much force, shooting metal shrapnel at vehicle occupants.
"It appears that Takata was aware, or should have been aware, of serious safety and quality control lapses in its manufacturing plants as early as 2001," the report said. "Documents reviewed by Committee minority staff also indicate that Takata was informed of three serious incidents involving faulty inflators in the first half of 2007."
The first recall was not issued until November 2008 — more than a year later.
"In addition, internal e-mails obtained by the Committee suggest that Takata may have prioritized profit over safety by halting global safety audits for financial reasons," the report said.
A Takata spokesman told Edmunds on Monday the report contains "a number of inaccuracies based largely on old media articles that Takata has previously refuted, and e-mails that are taken out of context and characterized in ways that create a false impression."
The Takata statement also said: "For example, the global audits referenced in the emails relate to the safe handling by employees of pyrotechnic materials — they were not, as the report implies, related to product quality or safety. Takata conducts regular reviews of product quality and safety at Moses Lake and Monclova, and at no time were those halted.
"As an additional layer of quality assurance, Takata has convened an independent Quality Assurance Panel to conduct a comprehensive review to ensure Takata's current manufacturing procedures meet best practices. We are committed to proper manufacturing practices and to the safety of our employees and the driving public."
The Congressional report also says an unknown number of replacement parts might be defective as well and that federal safety regulators failed to "promptly investigate" early reports of the defective airbags.
"Had Takata maintained a more robust culture of safety, it is likely that many of these defects could have been discovered much sooner," the report noted. "Similarly, had NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) promptly undertaken more aggressive steps to investigate the Takata airbag ruptures, it is possible that this defect could have been addressed years earlier."
Edmunds says: A new report that should prove to be disheartening to U.S. consumers. But it also serves as yet another reminder for affected owners of these cars to get them into the dealership for repairs as soon as possible.