Takata Officials Say Company Is Subject Of Criminal Investigation Over Defective Airbags

takataJapanese auto parts maker Takata, which already faces several lawsuits and investigations by U.S. regulators regarding its production of potentially defective airbags that have been linked to five deaths, is now the subject of a U.S. criminal investigation.

Reuters reports that a federal grand jury in U.S. District Court for Southern District of New York has subpoenaed Takata’s U.S. unit to produce documents related to the deadly airbag defect.

The company reportedly disclosed the investigation during a closed-door meeting with financial analysts.

Also in the meeting, officials with Takata told the analysts that the company is not considering adding production lines to make replacement airbag inflators.

The inflators are the explosive device that allows the airbag to inflate in a fraction of a second. In Takata’s airbag defect case, the chemical in the inflators are believed to become unstable when exposed to humid or wet conditions, causing pieces of the inflator to shoot at passengers with enough force to cause injuries or even death.

Since 2008, nearly 16 million vehicles have been recalled because of the defect, with large portions of the recalls being issued this year. Just last month, the NHTSA urged owners to affected vehicles to have them fixed as soon as possible. However, many manufacturers say they don’t have the parts available.

Reuters reports that Takata also publicly disputed a New York Times piece regarding secret testing of airbags years before the first recall was announced in 2008.

The company says the Times story was “based on serious misunderstandings of the facts,” and that the tests were conducted to detect tears in the cushions of the airbag modules.

Also on Thursday the fifth fatality related to the defect was announced: Honda reported that a driver in Malaysia died in July after being hit with shrapnel from a Takata airbag.

So far, all five fatalities linked to the Takata airbag defect have occurred in Honda vehicles. Honda, Takata’s biggest customer, has recalled nearly 10 million vehicles globally because of the defect.

UPDATE 1-Takata says subject of U.S. criminal probe on air bag flaws [Reuters]