By Craig Trudell and Masatsugu Horie, Bloomberg News
TOKYO (Dec. 18, 2014) — Takata Corp., the embattled airbag maker, stepped up its response to a global auto-safety crisis by distributing an open letter from its chief executive officer in U.S. and German newspapers.
Shigehisa Takada, Takata's chairman and grandson of the company founder, wrote in the letter that the parts maker is tripling capacity to test its airbag inflators. The devices have ruptured in five fatal accidents and have led to recalls of more than 20 million vehicles.
“Even one failure is unacceptable and we are truly and deeply saddened that five fatalities have been attributed to auto accidents where Takata air bags malfunctioned,” Mr. Takada, 48, wrote. “We understand the public's concerns and we take them seriously.”
The advertisements in newspapers including the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Detroit Free Press show Takata is intensifying efforts to defend itself amid a crisis that's sent its shares plunging 56 percent this year. Takata hired public-relations firm Sard Verbinnen & Co. this month and said Alby Berman, vice president of global communications, is retiring while still consulting for the Tokyo-based company.
The open letter follows Mr. Takada's interview Dec. 17 with Japan's Nikkei newspaper, in which he said Takata had been misunderstood and had no intention of confronting the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The company has refused NHTSA's demands to expand some recalls nationwide that have been limited to high-humidity regions. The regulator said this week that it's preparing for a legal battle.
Takata has said it will increase replacement airbag production to 450,000 repair kits by next month from its plant in Mexico. The company also will boost capacity to build the components at factories in China and Germany within a year, Mr. Takada told the Nikkei.
Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and other car makers met last week to discuss hiring an independent engineering firm to test Takata inflators.
Honda, Takata's biggest customer, also has said it's agreed to source some replacement parts from Autoliv Inc. and Daicel Corp.
This Bloomberg News report appeared on the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.