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Takata Quality Official Apologizes Over Air Bag Defect Linked To Deaths

Hiroshi Shimizu, senior vice president of global quality assurance at Japanese air bag maker Takata, apologizes for the failure of the defective devices on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday.
J. Scott Applewhite

The executive in charge of quality for Takata Corp. apologized today for the defects in the air bags made by his company that have been linked to at least five deaths and dozens of injuries.

"We are deeply sorry about each of the reported instances in which a Takata air bag has not performed as designed and the driver or passenger had suffered personal injuries or death," Hiroshi Shimizu, senior vice president of quality for Takata, told the Senate Commerce Committee.

Takata air bags can inflate with too much force, sending metal shrapnel through the vehicle. The New York Times reported today that Takata's switch to a cheaper air bag propellant in 1998 is at the center of the crisis.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants Takatato issue a nationwide recall of its air bags. But the company says it has found that the inflator ruptures only in high-humidity parts of the country. The company so far has issued recalls in Florida, Hawaii and along the Gulf Coast, as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands.

BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota all use the inflators that are the target of the recall. More than 14 million recalls have been issued worldwide.

As we noted on Tuesday, the long-running problems with Takata's air bags were first spotted in 2004. The company has hired Andrew Levander, a prominent New York defense lawyer, to deal with a criminal investigation into its actions.

Here's more from The Wall Street Journal: "Analysts say that even if NHTSA's additional recalls are implemented, Takata has ample cash reserves and won't be at immediate financial risk. But they also say it is hard to quantify potentially bigger risks, such as costs stemming from class-action suits, damage to Takata's reputation or the possibility of yet more recalls."

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Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.
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