WASHINGTON — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is fining Japanese auto supplier Takata $14,000 a day for failing to cooperate fully in the federal probe of defective airbags, the agency announced on Friday.
The civil penalty of $14,000 per day starts today and continues "to accrue by $14,000 for each additional day in which NHTSA does not receive a complete response," said NHTSA in a statement.
NHTSA said if Takata does not comply with its demands and pay all civil penalties, it may refer the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice.
"Takata is neither being forthcoming with the information that it is legally obligated to supply, nor is it being cooperative in aiding NHTSA's ongoing investigation of a potentially serious safety defect," said the agency, which oversees vehicle safety in the U.S.
Late last year, NHTSA issued two Special Orders to Takata requiring the company to provide documentation and other materials relating to the agency's ongoing investigation. NHTSA said Takata has not fully cooperated with the investigation.
"Safety is a shared responsibility and Takata's failure to fully cooperate with our investigation is unacceptable and will not be tolerated," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement. "For each day that Takata fails to fully cooperate with our demands, we will hit them with another fine."
"We are surprised and disappointed by the DOT/NHTSA letter and press release today, and we strongly disagree with their characterization that we have not been fully cooperating with them," said Takata in a statement provided to Edmunds.
Takata said it has provided NHTSA with almost 2.5 million pages of documents to date and has been in "regular communication" with NHTSA regarding the production of documents in response to the special orders by the agency.
The supplier said it has also been meeting regularly with NHTSA engineers to identify the root cause of the problem.
"We continue to keep NHTSA closely informed on the extensive testing efforts we have undertaken," the statement said. "That work has, so far, supported our initial view that age and sustained exposure to heat and humidity is a common factor in the small number of inflators that have malfunctioned. In fact, as recently as last week, we met with NHTSA to review the results of these efforts."
Takata said it has "significantly increased" production of replacement inflators and is working with other inflator suppliers as well.
"We are also in the process of implementing an effort to accelerate replacement recalls in those geographic areas identified as being most at risk," it said.
More than 17 million vehicles in the U.S. and approximately 24 million vehicles worldwide are involved in Takata airbag recalls. The faulty airbags can explode, shooting shrapnel at vehicle occupants. Defective Takata airbags have been linked to six deaths worldwide.
In other action on Friday, Foxx and NHTSA called on Congress to pass legislation that would require rental car agencies and used-car dealers to fix safety defects before renting or selling vehicles subject to a recall.
Edmunds says: This latest action by the federal government serves as a reminder to consumers to get any vehicle involved in the Takata recall into their dealership as soon as possible for the repair. Consumers can use the free NHTSA VIN look-up tool for more help.