Years before its airbags were linked to eight deaths and 100 injuries, Takata stopped safety audits of airbag problems because the probe cost too much, according to a new Congressional report.
“Global safety audits had stopped for financial reasons for last 2 years,” wrote a top executive at the Japan-based company in an April 2011 email.
The same year that the audits stopped, a supervisor at a Takata plant in Mexico and an engineer exchanged emails about improper welds on airbag inflators that might possibly result in injuries to passengers.
"We cannot be faced with findings / defects of this sort and NOT do ANYTHING," the supervisor wrote in the email. "A part that is not welded = one life less, which shows we are not fulfilling the mission."
Since 2013, Takata has recalled 33.8 million vehicles in the U.S. to fix airbags that can explode and spray drivers and passengers with shrapnel.
The emails were revealed in a new staff report from Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee that was released prior to Takata executives’ appearance before the committee Tuesday. They were among 13,000 documents obtained in preparation for the hearing, which concerns both Takata’s airbag problem and how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) responded.
The report shows that Takata has a history of putting costs over safety, say committee members.
"The more evidence we see, the more it paints a troubling picture of a manufacturer that lacked concern," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., ranking minority member of the committee.
The report also says that NHTSA failed to move quickly when reports of a problem surfaced. The agency has been under fire for similar problems in recent months.
During the hearing, Takata’s executive vice president for North America said in a statement that it was “unacceptable to us and incompatible with our safety mission for even one of our products to fail to perform as intended and to put people at risk.”
“We deeply regret each instance in which a Takata airbag inflator has ruptured, especially in those cases where someone has been injured or killed,” said Kevin Kennedy. “We understand how important it is to the driving public, Congress, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and our automaker partners to address and resolve the safety concerns raised by the airbag ruptures, and we are committed to doing everything in our power to help achieve that goal."