DEFECTIVE CRASH-BAGS: US senator Bill Nelson displays a defective air bag made by Takata. The bags have been linked to a number of deaths and injuries. Image: AP / J. Scott Applewhite
RICHMOND, Virginiaa - The US government will fine Japanese crash-bag maker Takata the equivalent of R163 000 per day, for failing to fully co-operate in a long-running investigation of faulty and potentially dangerous bag inflators.
The inflators, used in cars made by 10 automakers, can explode and blast bits of metal into people in the car. At least six have been killed and 64 injured worldwide.
US transportation secretary Anthony Foxx announced the fines on February 20 in Richmond, Virginia, while on tour to promote a major transportation bill. He called Takata "a bad actor" and said the fines would "grow each day that it failed to comply" with two special orders issued in 2014 by his department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
'WILL NOT BE TOLERATED'
Foxx said in a statement: "Takata's failure to fully co-operate with our investigation is unacceptable and will not be tolerated."
Messages left for Takata spokesmen to give their comment were not returned on Friday (Feb 20).
Takata has resisted demands to recall its driver's-side bags nationwide but automakers have done their own recalls. The agency also has demanded data from Takata but said in a letter to the company that it had failed to explain a "deluge" of 2.4-million pages of documents that were turned over.
US federal law requires Takata to provide a catalogue or index with such documents so investigators know what to look for.
The letter, from NHTSA chief counsel Kevin Vincent, claimed Takata was not being forthcoming or co-operative with the NHTSA investigation. It read: "Takata has still not taken any steps to provide the agency with an explanation of the documents."
Fines would continue to accrue until Takata "fully and substantively" explains the documents, the letter added.
30-MILLION CARS AFFECTED?
Vincent also threatened in the letter to begin taking depositions of Takata employees in the US and Japan if the company diid not comply and to refer the case to the US Justice Department for further court action.
The NHTSA has claimed that Takata's inflator propellant, ammonium nitrate can burn faster than is is supposed to after prolonged to moisture in the air. That can cause it to blow apart a metal canister meant to contain the explosion.
So far, automakers have recalled about 15-million vehicles in the US and about 22-million globally due to problems with Takata inflators. There could be as many as 30 million with the air bags nationwide.
GROW AMERICA ACT
The transportation bill, called the Grow America Act, was unveiled by the administration in 2014. It would the amount the government can fine automakers from R409-million to R3-billion. It would also triple the NHTSA's investigations budget to R366-million and give the agency new authority to stop the sales of defective vehicles on the grounds that they are an "imminent hazard" before the agency's defect investigation is complete.
Also in the bill are provisions requiring used-car dealers and vehicle-rental companies to have the inflators changed before they can rent or sell cars.
Foxx added in his statement: "I'm asking congress to pass the Grow America Act, which provides the tools and resources needed to change the culture of safety, for bad actors such as Takata."