Takata Airbag Oversight Committee Announced; Led by Former US Transportation Secretary

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File photo of the Takata plant in MonclovaJanuary 20, 2015 — According to David Sedgwick of the Automotive News, Former Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner today released a list of six experts to serve on an independent panel to oversee the Takata Corporation’s efforts to ensure that its airbag inflators meet federal safety standards.

Skinner, who was picked by Takata on December 3 to chair the newly formed oversight committee, named the panel in a statement given earlier today. In addition to Skinner, the panel will also include:

  • John Snow — the former head of railroad giant CSX, who also served as the secretary of the U.S. Treasury from 2003 until 2006. He has served in several roles throughout the U.S. business community since 2006 as representative of the Cerberus private equity firm. Back in 2007, Snow presided over the ill fated $7.45-million acquisition of Chrysler by Daimler A.G. Two years later Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was taken over by the Fiat group in a U.S. government-sponsored reorganization.
  • Marion Blakey — who served as administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration from 2002 to 2007, and chairwoman of the National Traffic Safety Board from 2001 to 2002
  • Nelda Connors, a former executive at Tyco International, Eaton Corp. and the Fluid Power Group from 2002 through 2011
  • John Landgraf — executive vice president of Abbott Laboratories
  • Professor Julio Ottino — Dean of the school of engineering at Northwestern University
  • Dr. Jeffrey Runge — the former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 2001 to 2005.

The panel will not investigate allegations that Takata engineers secretly uncovered faults during random testing in 2004, and then purposely concealed evidence, neither will they attempt to determine the root cause of why some inflators have deployed explosively, causing injuries to several passengers from shrapnel. “Other people will be looking at that,” Skinner said. “That’s not our charter.” Instead, the panel will concentrate on Takata’s current manufacturing process, the chemical ingredients of the propellent being used to help deploy the airbags, and general decision making strategy among the corporate infrastructure in Tokyo.

As Takata ramps up efforts to install new assembly lines at the factory in Monclava, Mexico, where an estimated 450,000 replacement inflators per month will be made, the panel plans to insert an independent engineering firm to conduct a detailed study and report its findings publicly. The experienced engineering firm and lab will conduct testing in metallurgy and chemical engineering. The examination of Takata’s inflators “is going to be a complicated assessment,” Skinner said. “We’re going to hire someone who does this for a living.” The panel plans to scrutinize the Monclava plant as well as other Takata facilities, as necessary.

As Takata is struggling to meet the huge demand for replacement inflators, its competitors (Daecel Corporation of Japan and Autoliv Incorporated of Sweden) are also expected to produce replacement inflators to meet the recall-fuelled demand. Nearly every major automaker, with Honda in a particular bind, are urgently seeking new inflators to repair Takata airbag equipped vehicles that are under National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recall. Since 2008, approximately 24-million vehicles with Takata airbags have been recalled globally.

S.M. Darby

S.M. Darby

I am a freelance author with over 25 years of experience as a professional, ASE certified automotive technician and shop owner, muscle car enthusiast, avid street racer, and classic car restoration specialist.