It isn’t exactly earth-shattering news that automakers were well-aware that Takata airbags were a disaster waiting to happen. But a court document filed on Monday illustrates the extent of how much—and how long—four automakers knew.
Lawyers representing victims of Takata’s incredibly-defective airbags asserted in a court filing that at least four automakers knew as far back at the late 1990s that Takata’s airbags were a potential danger. It comes as Takata pled guilty on Monday to square away the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal investigation into what cause defect — which, you’ll recall, affected about 42 million vehicles.
The filing’s especially damning because the fresh allegations are bolstered by the automakers’ — Ford, Nissan, Honda, and Toyota — own documents. As the New York Times notes, automakers asserted in court that Takata was the sole culprit, and they were merely an unassuming party to a massive cover-up.
But here, for instance, is what Ford knew, from the plaintiffs’ filing:
- Ford chose Takata’s inflators over the objections of Ford’s own inflator expert, who was opposed to the use of ammonium nitrate because of its phase instability and moisture sensitivity—characteristics that make ammonium nitrate unsuitable as an inflator propellant and have contributed to ruptures.
- Ford approved the use of Takata’s inflators even though it was aware that they did not meet the USCAR specifications that Ford itself helped draft. These specifications, as early as 2000, singled out separate requirements for inflators containing ammonium nitrate, acknowledging their unique risks.
- Ford overrode the objections of its own inflator expert because Takata was apparently the only supplier that could provide the amount of inflators that Ford needed—as one document states, Ford had “a gun to its head so it had to accept ammonium nitrate.” This “gun” was of Ford’s own making, as it failed to secure a backup supplier for inflators.
- Ford was aware that Takata’s ammonium-nitrate inflators were cheaper than safer guanidine-nitrate inflators.
- Ford was aware that numerous ruptures had occurred during testing of Takata’s inflators in November 2004.
- Recognizing the risk of Takata’s ammonium-nitrate propellant, Ford insisted on adding desiccant, a drying agent, to the propellant for certain inflators beginning around 2005—yet for almost a decade after that, it continued to equip and sell vehicles with inflators containing nondesiccated ammonium nitrate.
Yikes. Ford had a “gun to its head” to accept ammonium nitrate.
Here’s what Honda knew, from the filing (emphasis ours):
- Honda’s emails and internal documents show that it picked Takata’s inflators due to their relative “inexpensiveness.”
- In 1999 and 2000, Honda was intimately involved in the design of Takata’s ammonium-nitrate propellant and chose the “batwing” shape, over Takata’s objections.
- During testing of Takata’s inflators in 1999 and 2000 at Honda’s own facilities, at least two inflators ruptured.
- In 2004, ten years before the national recall, Honda learned of a field rupture in Alabama, which severely injured the driver.
- In 2006, Takata’s manufacturing plant in Mexico suffered a massive explosion fueled by ammonium nitrate, of which Honda was made aware.
- Before Honda initiated its first, narrow recall in 2008, at least 8 ruptures had occurred in Honda vehicles—six in the field and two during the design phase.
- By the end of 2009, at least 14 field ruptures had occurred in Honda vehicles, including the first fatality.
- By the end of 2011, at least 27 field ruptures had occurred in Honda vehicles, still three years before it initiated a nationwide recall.
- In 2012, documents show that Honda believed that Takata was an “untrustworthy company,” yet still continued to use Takata’s inflators for several more years and refused to initiate a nationwide recall.
- When Honda finally initiated a nationwide recall in 2014, at least 77 field ruptures had occurred in Honda vehicles, a figure that grew to at least 117 by March 2016.
Yeah, so: that’s 15 years before the nationwide recall was initiated. That’s how long this was on Honda’s radar.
The entire filing’s below, for your perusal.