Takata Has a New General Counsel, Still Won't Comply with NHTSA

Dec 29, 2014 03:01 PM EST | Jordan Ecarma

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Japanese supplier Takata is still at odds with federal regulators over air bags that can explode and spray shrapnel at a vehicle's occupants.

While the company has refused to comply with a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration order to recall the air bags nationwide, Takata has taken other steps to make amends for the issue that has been related to at least five deaths.

Still arguing that a nationwide expansion of the air bag recall is unnecessary, Takata has appointed a new general counsel for its North American unit, Bruce D. Angiolillo of Simpson Thacher & Barlett LLP.

"Mr. Angiolillo will oversee all North American legal and regulatory matters at the Company and work directly with Takata's senior management, external legal counsel and the Company's governing bodies," Takata said in a statement. "He will play an integral role in Takata's continued efforts to work cooperatively with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other regulators to resolve all outstanding issues related to the safety campaigns associated with certain Takata airbag inflators."

Why the air bags explode is still unknown; the problem seems to be exacerbated in hot, humid areas, initially leading Takata and automakers to conduct limited regional recalls.

Five carmakers have expanded their recalls for Takata driver's air bags after being pressured by NHTSA.

BMW is the latest, announcing a recall expansion last week that affected 140,000 3 Series cars from model years 2004-'06. Chrysler, Ford, Honda and Mazda have also agreed to expand their air bag-related recalls. The faulty air bags have been connected to at least five deaths, all of which occurred in Honda vehicles, as well as at least 50 injuries.

Takata's leadership went through a shuffle last week, with Stefan Stocker stepping down after less than two years as president and CEO Shigehisa Takada reclaiming the role.

Takada, 48, is the grandson of the company's founder. He will take a 50 percent pay cut for four months to mitigate the air bag disaster, Takata said in a statement.

The company hasn't specified whether Stocker resigned or was fired; the former president will stay on as a board member, according to Automotive News. While he was brought on to reboot Takata's image and promote transparency, Stocker saw the company come under fire for its response to the air bag disaster, facing criticism from safety advocates, dozens of class-action lawsuits and a criminal investigation in the United States.

In an effort to increase goodwill, Takata earlier this month took out full-page ads in the Detroit Free Press, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Automotive News as well as three German publications.

The ad promised increased cooperation with regulators and noted that Takata air bags have deployed safely in more than 2 million collisions since 1987 and have saved "thousands of lives."

Ten automakers have recalled more than 20 million vehicles worldwide in connection with the air bag issue.

"Takata will work with [NHTSA] and the automakers to increase the production capacity for replacement air bags to support all safety campaigns or further recalls announced by the automakers," the ad read. "We are building on existing efforts, led by our most senior engineers, to address any and all safety issues, but we recognize more must be done now."

The company has vowed to investigate why the inflators in faulty air bags explode and has tapped three former secretaries of transportation to be part of a panel to examine the issue.

Toyota is leading a group of 10 automakers that met last week to discuss the faulty air bags and plans to hire an outside consultant to test and analyze Takata's inflators.

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