The Department of Justice is going to have yet another opportunity to fulfill its promise of holding individual executives accountable for corporate crimes.
On Tuesday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced a $200 million civil penalty on car airbag manufacturer Takata for failing to issue a recall after the company was aware it was selling defective airbags. $70 million of the fine will have to be paid in cash upfront with $130 million to be assessed if Takata does not comply with the consent agreement the company reached with the NHTSA.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said at a press conference that Takata denied there was a problem when the NHTSA first came to the company with concerns about the airbags being defective. Foxx went on to say Takata manipulated airbag test data to hide the defects and that “Delay, misdirection and a refusal to acknowledge the truth allowed a serious problem to become a massive crisis.”
The defective airbags have reportedly killed eight people and injured over 100. 19 million cars containing the airbags in the US have been recalled.
The airbags in question have a faulty metal casing called an inflator, which contains ammonium nitrate and explodes when a significant level of force is applied – like, you know, during a car accident.
Honda, a fellow Japanese company and Takata’s largest customer, has now dropped the airbag supplier and concurred with Secretary Foxx, saying Takata had “misrepresented and manipulated test data.” Toyota and Nissan are reportedly exploring the possibility of dropping Takata as well, with Toyota disclosing it was already testing airbags from Takata’s competitors.
Takata’s amazingly tone deaf CEO, Shigehisa Takada, responded to the news by saying, “We still think our product is safe, but we realize there are many concerns from consumer, automakers and U.S. regulators.”