Mark Lillie, a former engineer at Takata Corp. has told a United States congressional committee that he would be willing to testify that he gave warnings against using the ammonium nitrate to inflate its air bags. Lillie said his exit from the company was linked to Takata’s disregard of his warnings.
He told Bloomberg in a phone interview that he knew that “ultimately there were going to be catastrophic failures,” adding he didn’t want his name associated with it. Takata, in an e-mailed response to questions from Bloomberg News, didn’t directly address Lillie’s account of company discussions over the chemical compound or the circumstances of his exit.
The company has already set up an independent panel that will conduct a “comprehensive review” to ensure that its current manufacturing procedures “meet best practices in the production of safe inflators.” The company said it will share the results of the probe publicly. against using the chemical compound ammonium nitrate to inflate its air bags.
Over 20 million cars fitted with Takata inflators have been recalled globally since they deploy with too much force, thereby rupturing the airbags and shoot metal fragments at vehicle occupants.
Lawmakers have also hit Takata for continuing to use ammonium nitrate in replacement air bags for recalled vehicles. According to a Bloomberg News review of Takata’s patents in December showed that its researchers have been aware of the instability of ammonium nitrate since at least 1.
Takata’s patent history for its airbags reveals that that the supplier’s researchers, for dozens of years, has been aware of the instability of the explosive propellant -- ammonium nitrate – and have been looking for ways to make them more stable and the safety devices more durable.
Bloomberg News had reviewed the patents studied by Jason Turchin, a lawyer involved in a Takata airbag litigation, as well as other documents. Turchin cites two patents, from 1985 and from 1989, that address the possibility that airbag housings can degrade when exposed to high temperatures and can be at risk of rupturing or breaking apart. Takata’s applications could help lawyers show that the Japanese supplier could have acted soon enough to avoid the defects.
Takata chief executive Shigehisa Takada has already said that the company has enough funds to handle a global recall of possibly defective airbags involving over 21 million vehicles. Takada remarked to the Japanese newspaper that the company is not worried that it would be undercapitalized.
Takata has so far allocated $774 million (£496 million) to deal with recalls, is facing a number of class-action lawsuits as well as a criminal investigation in the United States. Takada said the supplier is currently making the production of replacement airbags as a priority.