Japanese auto parts maker Takata offered a "substantive rebuttal" to accusations made by two former employees that they carried out tests on airbags 10 years ago in Michigan and found signs of defects but failed to report the results to safety regulators.
Last week, The New York Times reported that Takata, which is at the center of a massive global recall, ordered technicians to destroy results to tests on some air bags after discovering cracks in the air bag inflaters.
Takata claims its engineers didn't learn of the first incident involving an airbag with the defect until the middle of 2005. The incident involved the crash of a Honda Accord, which crashed in May 2004, injuring the driver, The Times reported.
"So they did not and could not perform inflater tests in 2004 in response to that accident," the newspaper quoted Takata as saying in a statement.
The newspaper, citing two former Takata employees, said the company retrieved 50 airbags from scrap yards for tests not long after the accident took place.
"All the testing was hush-hush," one former employee said to the newspaper. "Then one day, it was, 'Pack it all up, shut the whole thing down.' It was not standard procedure."
Instead of telling U.S. federal safety regulators about the tests, company executives told employees to destroy the data.
At least 11 automakers have recalled more than 14 million vehicles worldwide because of the rupture risks. Four deaths have been tied to the defect, which can cause the airbag's steel canister to crack and explode into pieces when the device deploys during a crash.
The test results were so "upsetting" company engineers quickly started creating possible fixes to prepare for a recall, according to the employees. Tests were supposedly supervised by Takata's then-vice president for engineering Al Bernat, were done in the summer of 2004 at Takata's U.S. headquarters in Michigan, they said.