Takata fined up to $200 million for air bag bungle

Last Updated Nov 3, 2015 4:57 PM EST

U.S. auto safety regulators on Tuesday fined Japan's Takata for mishandling the way it recalled air bag inflators involved in the deaths of at least seven Americans and said they are acting to speed up the process to protect millions of vulnerable drivers.

"For years Takata has built and sold defective inflators, refused to acknowledge the defect, and supplied inaccurate and misleading information, putting millions of Americans at risk," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told a news conference. "American drivers should not have to worry that a device designed to save their life might actually take it."

What U.S. regulators call "high priority" recalls involve more than 23 million inflators, 19 million vehicles and 12 automakers. But Foxx said the recall could affect potentially "millions more" vehicles in the U.S. Less than a quarter of the affected cars in the U.S. have been repaired, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said in October.

The agreement with Takata requires it to pay up to $200 million -- the largest civil penalty in NHTSA's history -- and to stop selling inflators that use an ammonium nitrate propellant linked to the deaths and to nearly 100 injuries caused by ruptured air bags.

As part of the agreement, Takata has to phase out the use of the propellant unless it's able to prove that it is not related to the airbag explosions. "Until they can prove it is safe, we will not see ammonium nitrate in these air bags in the future," Foxx said.

Of the $200 million, Takata will pay $70 million in cash; it would be on the hook for the remaining $130 million if it fails to adhere to the terms of the consent agreement reached with the government or if additional violations of the Safety Act are found.

As part of the agreement, Takata will be subject to federal oversight for five years. In addition, "The company is dismissing some of its employees as a result of our investigation," Foxx said.

"We will comply with all aspects of the settlement and are committed to being part of the solution," Shigehisa Takada, chairman and CEO of Takata, said in a statement.

The fine was criticized as insufficient to change industry behavior by the Center for Auto Safety, which advocates on behalf of consumers. "The real penalty today is just $70 million and an independent monitor to be named later," Clarence Ditlow, the group's executive director, said in a statement. "Not until an auto company official is put in jail will automakers change their behavior."

Under the agreement, the Transportation Department is pushing Takata and U.S. automakers to speed up their efforts to fix vehicles with defective airbags. "We shouldn't even be here. DOT should not have to place itself in the middle of a massive safety recall," Foxx said.

An investigation by NHTSA found a pattern of Takata providing "selective, incomplete and inaccurate information" dating back to January 2009, said Mark Rosekind, the watchdog's administrator, in the news conference.

Takata's air bag problems began surfacing more than a decade ago, when one of the company's inflators ruptured in a car in Switzerland.

Takata, which faces dozens of lawsuits, in May acknowledged for the first time that its air bags were defective. It agreed to double the count of cars to be recalled in the U.S., while advising automakers to replace the faulty inflators with newly designed ones from the company, or with those made by rivals.

"Over the past few months, Honda has reviewed millions of pages of Takata internal documents produced by Takata in relation to litigation regarding Takata air bag inflators. We have become aware of evidence that suggests that Takata misrepresented and manipulated test data for certain airbag inflators," Honda said in a statement Tuesday about its supplier.

How to Check

NHTSA has online resources to help consumers whose vehicle may have a defective air bag made by Takata. It recommends people enter their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to see if it matches one of the approximately 19 million vehicles from 12 auto manufacturers involved in the recall at this website: https://vinrcl.safercar.gov/vin/.

How To Keep Updated On The Recalls

The NHTSA has set up a website dedicated to the Takata recalls:http://www.safercar.gov/rs/takata/index.html. The NHTSA says the website will contain regular updates, recall lists, and information on the status of the Takata recalls and its investigation.

Which Makes and Models Are Recalled

  • BMW:

2000 - 328i2001-2006 - M32002-2003 - M52002-2006 - 325Ci2002-2006 - 325Cic2002-2006 - 330Ci2002-2006 - 330Cic2002-2005 - 325iT2002-2005 - 325XiT 2000-2006 - 325i 2001-2006 - 325Xi 2001-2006 - 330i 2001-2006 - 330Xi2002-2003 - 525i 2002-2003 - 525iT 2002-2003 - 530i 2002-2003 - 540i 2002-2003 - 540iT 2003-2004 - X5 3.0i 2003-2004 - X5 4.4i

  • CHRYSLER:

2007-2008 Chrysler Aspen 2005-2010 Chrysler 300 2005-2010 Chrysler 300C 2005-2010 Chrysler SRT8 2008-2010 Dodge Challenger 2006-2010 Dodge Charger 2005-2011 Dodge Dakota 2004-2008 Dodge Durango 2005-2008 Dodge Magnum 2003-2009 Dodge Ram 1500 2003-2009 Dodge Ram 2500 2003-2009 Dodge Ram 3500 2008-2010 Dodge Ram 4500 2008-2010 Dodge Ram 5500

  • CHEVROLET:

2007 - 2008 Silverado 2500 HD2007 - 2008 Silverado 3500 HD2007 - 2008 GMC Sierra 2500 HD2007 - 2008 GMC Sierra 3500 HD

  • DAIMLER:

2008-2009 Sterling Bullet 45002008-2009 Sterling Bullet 5500 2007-2008 Dodge Sprinter 2500 2007-2008 Dodge Sprinter 3500 2006-2008 Freightliner Sprinter 2500 2006-2008 Freightliner Sprinter 3500

  • FORD:

2004-2006 Ranger 2005-2006 GT2005-2014 Mustang

  • GENERAL MOTORS:

2007-2008 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 2007-2008 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 2007-2008 GMC Sierra 2500 2007-2008 GMC Sierra 35002003-2007 Pontiac Vibe2005 Saab 9-2x

  • HONDA:

2001-2007 Accord 2001-2005 Civic 2003-2005 Civic Hybrid 2002-2006 CR-V 2003-2011 Element 2002-2004 Odyssey 2003-2008 Pilot 2002-2006 Ridgeline 2003 Acura CL 2002-2003 Acura TL 2003-2006 Acura MDX 2005 Acura RL 2001-2004 Civic CNG

  • MAZDA:

2004-2006 B-Series Truck2003-2008 Mazda6 2006-2007 Mazda Mazdaspeed62004-2005 MPV 2004-2008 RX-8

  • MITSUBISHI:

2004-2006 Lancer 2004-2006 Lancer Evolution 2004 Lancer Sportback 2006-2010 Mitsubishi Raider

  • NISSAN:

2002-2003 Nissan Maxima 2002-2006 Nissan Sentra 2002-2004 Nissan Pathfinder 2003-2005 Infiniti FX35 2003-2005 Infiniti FX452002-2004 Infiniti I35 2006 Infiniti M35 2006 Infiniti M452002-2003 Infiniti QX4

  • SUBARU:

2003-2005 Baja 2004-2005 Impreza 2003-2005 Legacy 2003-2005 Outback

  • TOYOTA:

2003-2007 Corolla 2003-2007 Corolla Matrix 2004-2005 Rav4 2002-2007 Sequoia 2003-2006 Tundra 2002-2007 Lexus SC