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Automobile firms' quest for low-cost parts led to using deadly Takata air bags over safer components - New York Times report

Author: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times (USA), Published on: 29 August 2016

"A Cheaper Airbag, and Takata’s Road to a Deadly Crisis", 26 Aug. 2016

Automakers embraced Takata’s cheaper technology almost 20 years ago despite signs that it was unsafe. The airbags are now at the center of the auto industry’s biggest recall...

In the late 1990s, General Motors got an...offer... [from a new] supplier, Takata, [which] had designed a much cheaper automotive airbag.  G.M. turned to its airbag supplier — ...Autoliv — and asked it to match the cheaper design...according to Linda Rink, who was a senior scientist at Autoliv... But when Autoliv’s scientists studied the Takata airbag, they found that it relied on a dangerously volatile compound in its inflater... “We just said, ‘No, we can’t do it. We’re not going to use it,’” said Robert Taylor, Autoliv’s head chemist until 2010.

Today, that compound is at the heart of the largest automotive safety recall in history. At least 14 people have been killed and more than 100 have been injured by faulty inflaters made by Takata. More than 100 million of its airbags have been installed in cars in the United States by General Motors and 16 other automakers.  

Details of G.M.’s decision-making process almost 20 years ago, which has not been reported previously, suggest that a quest for savings of just a few dollars per airbag compromised a critical safety device, resulting in passenger deaths.  The findings also indicate that automakers played a far more active role in the prelude to the crisis: Rather than being the victims of Takata’s missteps, automakers pressed their suppliers to put cost before all else...

Tom Wilkinson, a spokesman for General Motors, which was reorganized as a new company after declaring bankruptcy in 2009, said the Takata discussions “occurred two decades ago between old G.M. and a supplier,” and therefore it was “not appropriate for us to comment.”...

Even with the record recall, deadly accidents and research critical of ammonium nitrate, Takata continues to manufacture airbags with the compound — and automakers continue to buy them... Takata said in a statement that it had taken steps to protect the ammonium nitrate it uses against temperature changes, which along with moisture are the main factors contributing to its volatility. [also refers to Chrysler (part of Fiat Chrysler), Honda, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Ford, TRW, Mississippi Chemical (now part of CF Industries)]

Read the full post here

Related companies: Chrysler (part of Fiat Chrysler) Fiat Chrysler Ford General Motors Honda Mitsubishi Motors Takata Toyota