...talk tough...threaten.....for public consumption.....
David Shepardson, The Detroit News 8:14 a.m. EST November 13, 2014
Takata Corp., the embattled Japanese air bag manufacturer, said it has received a federal grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York over defective air bags.
The company — which faces an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — said Thursday in a financial disclosure document that it faces the probe over exploding air bags that caused metal fragments to hit drivers and passengers that are linked to now five deaths worldwide.
It comes as the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee confirmed it will hold a hearing next Thursday on the Takata air bag recalls, hearing testimony from NHTSA and the Japanese auto supplier. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, who held up an air bag on the floor of the Senate Thursday, will chair the hearing. The most suspected death took place in Florida.
Nelson said some some automakers are dragging their feet in fixing air bags. He also criticized NHTSA, saying it “has not been right up front, forward leading and aggressive to protect the public.”
The White House is preparing to nominate a new NHTSA administrator as early as Friday. The position has been unfilled for 11 months and the department has been run by the deputy
administrator, David Friedman. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, who chaired two hearings on
General Motors safety issues this year, told The Detroit News the agency needs “new leadership.”
“I feel very strongly about that. I have been pushing the White House to forward a nominee.”
She thinks the Senate will confirm a new permanent administrator in the final weeks before the current Congress adjourns. “I am hopeful the White House sends over a new administrator for confirmation at NHTSA very soon,” she said. She said the lack of a permanent NHTSA chief “is not a good thing for our country.”
Takata noted it faces class-action lawsuits and said it has received a grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan — the same office investigating General Motors’ delayed the recall of 2.6 million vehicles for ignition problems. Takata said in its disclosure that it is not able to estimate how much it might face in fines related to the investigation.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said on Oct. 31 that the White House was still planning to name a new NHTSA chief “soon.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York reached a $1.2 billion settlement with Toyota Motor Corp. in March over allegations the Japanese automaker misled federal regulators in its sudden unintended acceleration recalls.
On Thursday, Honda announced a fifth death in Malaysia that occurred in July is related to the problem as it issued a new recall for more than 170,000 vehicles outside the United States including the city and Civic. The four previous deaths have been reported in the United States. It marks Honda’s 10th recall worldwide since 2008 related to the issue covering nearly 10 million vehicles, including more than 5 million in the United States. Honda has only confirmed three of the five are linked to the air bag defect, but said it is investigating two other U.S. deaths.
Takata chairman and CEO Takada Shigehisa apologized in Japan in a letter Thursday after Honda’s disclosure of the latest death. He apologized to shareholders and customers, and said the company was “praying for the souls of those who died.”
“We will continue to fully cooperate in the inquiry or request of the relevant authorities,” Shigehisa said according to a translation of the document. “We have to apologize for the inconvenience to everyone by the failure … we will also do our best future.”
Last week, three U.S. senators called on the Justice Department to open a criminal probe into Takata after a New York Times report that the company conducted secret tests in 2004 at its Auburn Hills facility, and hid and destroyed evidence. The company issued a lengthy rebuttal denying the allegations.
NHTSA has pushed 10 automakers who have recalled 7.8 million vehicles in the United States since 2013 to move faster. The agency is investigating whether the air bag recalls should be expanded. It also has required Takata and Honda to turn over significant information about the recalls in the coming weeks.
Automakers worldwide have recalled more than 16 million vehicles with defective Takata air bags since 2008.