The script has been the same since the crisis began. Automakers, the victims in the tale, had been unknowingly installing faulty Takata airbags into their vehicles for years and putting millions of lives at risk in the process. They would assume their role quickly and convincingly while the ire of legislators and the driving public was focused squarely on Takata.
That ire wasn’t entirely misplaced, as the information implicating Takata in the biggest recall in the history of the auto industry grew increasingly damning. From manipulated test data and unreported ruptures to fatalities affecting nearly every age group, including that of a 17-year-old girl in Texas, consumers and manufacturers alike had reason to be furious.
Legislators joined in as well, as the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration actually accelerated the deadline given to Takata to complete the manufacturing of replacement airbag devices. Displeased with the progress being made in the recall effort, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx made the “aggressive” move as a function of the agency’s desire to “speed up the availability of replacement air bags and…protect the traveling public.”
This narrative, however, may quickly be coming to a close as the victims in the story appear to have been conspirators. The New York Times dropped a bombshell last month when they wrote that a lawsuit sought to prove that four of the world’s largest automakers – including Honda – knew of the problems and dangers of using Takata airbags for years.
The other manufacturers implicated in the class action lawsuit include Ford, Nissan, and Toyota. The suit is based on, among other things, internal company documents.
Honda was quick to deny the allegations, yet some of the documents involved show that the company played a pivotal role in the development of the propellant used in Takata airbags; a propellant that would come to play a key role in the malfunction. It was also a propellant that would make life quite difficult for Takata engineers. Even after multiple failures and ruptures, Honda continued to push for the use of the propellant in the devices; primarily as a cost-cutting measure.
Toyota used Takata airbags even though they had “large quality concerns” about the devices and considered their quality performance to be “unacceptable.” Nissan engineers were so concerned with the volatility of the propellant under particularly moist or humid conditions that they were working on formulating a drying agent to be used in the device; yet used the airbags anyway. And, Ford decided to use Takata airbags over the objections of their own inflator expert.
Additional evidence may also implicate BMW in the scandal, however the accuracy of those allegations cannot yet be determined, as the company has refused to turn over any internal documentation that might be related to the case.
Regardless, with four of largest car companies on the planet now being implicated in one of the largest consumer scandals in history, the public can only wait and watch as the story is re-written.