Automakers for consortium to probe Takata airbag problems

Takata Airbags Lead Toyota, Nissan To Recall 3 Million Cars
The airbag unit for the passenger seat of a Toyota Motor Corp. vehicle is seen at the company's showroom in Tokyo, Japan, on Thursday, April 11, 2013. Takata Corp. faces its biggest recall crisis in almost two decades after defective airbag inflators led Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. to call back more than 3 million vehicles. Photographer: Koichi Kamoshida/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Koixhi Kamoshida — Bloomberg/Getty Images

As if government pressure and an internal investigation wasn’t enough, Takata now has another very important group of people looking into the faulty airbag scandal currently rocking the company — its customers.

A consortium of 10 automakers led by Toyota (TM) plans to hire an independent engineering firm and a former top U.S. auto safety regulator to investigate a rash of problems with air bags supplied by Japan’s Takata, the group said on Wednesday.

The carmakers want a forensic engineering firm “to address the technical issues with Takata air bag inflators,” Toyota spokeswoman Julie Hamp said in a statement on behalf of the group, which refers to itself as the joint initiative.

David Kelly, a former acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is the lead candidate to coordinate the probe, said people familiar with the effort. The automakers have recalled more than 14 million vehicles with defective air bags since 2008.

Takata said it has agreed to support the industry consortium in its investigation. In a statement, the supplier said it “is also conducting extensive testing and has engaged top automotive engineers and scientists from around the world to assist in evaluating inflator ruptures and discovering the root cause of these issues.”

In December, Takata named Samuel Skinner, former U.S. secretary of transportation, to head a “quality assurance panel” to review the company’s policies and responsiveness to automakers and regulators.

The recall of Takata airbags has been a growing scandal over the past few months. In December, FCA U.S. — formerly known as Chrysler — expanded its recall to include more than 3 million vehicles. In November, it was reported that sources inside the company claim bad tests were hidden for up to a decade, and that some tests were performed after hours and in secret. Last week, Honda slashed yearly expectations in response to the recall.

On Thursday, the Japanese airbag maker said it now expects its annual net loss to be 24% higher than it had previously forecast because of the rising cost of vehicle recalls.

Late last month, Takata’s president stepped down, reportedly to streamline the response to the recall scandal.

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