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July 19, 2016

More news of Takata air bag inflator data manipulation surfaces

Air bag supplier Takata routinely manipulated results of inflator tests supplied to Honda, a news agency reported, citing an ongoing audit commissioned by the supplier and its largest customer.

Air bag supplier Takata routinely manipulated results of inflator tests supplied to Honda, a news agency reported, citing an ongoing audit commissioned by the supplier and its largest customer.

The Bloomberg report appears to corroborate a November 2015 New York Times claim Takata manipulated test results on airbag inflators as far back as 2000. The paper, citing “a person with direct knowledge of internal company documents”, said data manipulation involved tests intended to demonstrate compliance with automakers’ design specifications. Takata allegedly had “misrepresented and manipulated test data”. Honda had at the time declined to give details but did say it was aware of “apparent instances of misleading or inaccurate data that were provided to Honda over time” related to “a variety of testing”. The automaker also said it alerted federal regulators to evidence as it became available and also ordered third-party auditing of Takata’s test data.

Brian O’Neill, a former Insurance Institute for Highway Safety president, told Bloomberg in a recent phone interview Takata engineers removed some test results to artificially reduce variability in air bag inflator performance. Takata and Honda jointly hired O’Neill to begin the audit in late October, days before Honda first announced those findings of data manipulation, the report said.

“We have found examples of what I would call ‘selective editing’ where they have left out results not because they were bad results but because the results that remained were better,” O’Neill was quoted as saying.

Bloomberg noted O’Neill’s recruitment had not previously been reported.

“We found evidence that the report that went to Honda was a shorter version of the original version and it was a prettier shortened version,” O’Neill added.

Bloomberg suggested findings of pervasive data manipulation and misrepresentations to automakers could complicate Takata’s efforts to restructure and secure potential buyers following the biggest safety crisis in the automotive industry’s history. Takata needs its customers’ backing to help deal with costs of recalls that may exceed 100m air bags worldwide.

Honda spokesman Chris Martin told Bloomberg the audit results would factor in Honda’s investigation into whether it should recall some additional Takata inflators.

According to just-auto‘s special compilation of all our reports related to the Takata crisis, the automaker’s Thai and Indian units [which share some suppliers; a Thai plant is the ‘mother factory’ of the Indian facility] have recently announced expanded inflator recalls while the US NHTSA US advised owners of 313,000 recalled Honda and Acura vehicles to replace their Takata-made airbags immediately after testing showed there was high as a 50% chance of rupture in a crash.

The automaker has previously said no new Honda or Acura models under development would be equipped with Takata-supplied inflators.

“Takata has previously acknowledged and deeply regrets issues related to the integrity of Takata’s inflator validation testing and reporting of test results to its customers,” Jared Levy, a spokesman for the supplier, told Bloomberg. “These issues are totally incompatible with Takata’s engineering standards and protocols and entirely inexcusable.”

Bloomberg also noted that, in lawsuit-related depositions, several current and former engineers said Takata also altered and misrepresented test data in reports to Toyota Motor, Nissan Motor and General Motors.

Brian Mayville, a Takata engineering manager, reportedly said during a deposition taken in November that selected reports were not properly represented to Toyota and GM. Toyota is evaluating the situation, spokesman Itsuki Kurosu told Bloomberg, declining to comment further, while Nissan spokesman Nick Maxfield said the company doesn’t comment on matters related to ongoing litigation. GM is closely monitoring the Takata inflator situation using internal and third-party experts, spokesman Tom Wilkinson told Bloomberg.

Takata and adviser Lazard are trying to find buyers for the company and as many as 20 possible bidders have been contacted, Bloomberg said, citing unnamed sources. The supplier reportedly is open to a sale to a private equity partner, a parts supplier or a combination.

Bloomberg added O’Neill’s audit focused first on air bag inflators the company validated in North American for vehicles in the region though the automaker has not yet been provided final results of this phase. The data review will extend to worldwide Takata inflators for Honda vehicles and, once auditors receive the data, that phase of the audit may take two to three months.

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