U.S. automotive safety regulators are now looking into reports that Takata may have concealed defective seatbelt components potentially impacting tens, evens hundreds of millions of vehicles sold around the world during the last two decades. Japanese authorities already have signaled that recalls will follow the revelations.
Joyson Safety Systems, the Chinese-owned automotive supplier that took over the remains of Takata after it went bankrupt in 2017, said it is poring over 20 years of testing data for seatbelt webbing and found inaccuracies suggesting the numbers might have been altered intentionally. Takata is the same company that produced more than 100 million faulty airbag inflators responsible for the largest single safety crisis in automotive history.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advised TheDetroitBureau.com that it “is aware of these reports and is gathering information. The agency is not currently aware of any field events related to this belt webbing, but encourages the public to reach out with any information at 1-888-327-4236. If NHTSA finds that this belt webbing leads to noncompliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards or otherwise represents an unreasonable risk to public safety, the agency will not hesitate to take appropriate action.”
At one point, Takata was one of the world’s premier suppliers of automotive safety systems. The company’s downfall began in 2014 when it was revealed that its airbag inflators could malfunction as they aged. In such instances, the squibs used to fill an airbag could explode with unusual force, sending plastic and metal shrapnel flying into the passenger compartment.
It was subsequently revealed that senior managers knew of the problem and tried to cover it up. According to a statement by Joyson, Takata may have tried to cover up defects with the webbing used in seatbelts, as well.
“JSS is currently reviewing available and relevant data over a 20-year period on a test-by-test and product-by-product basis,” Joyson said in a statement.
The potential scope of the problem is huge. Depending on the year, Takata provided as much as 40% of the webbing – or belts – used for the seatbelts fitted into vehicles assembled in Japan. The probe is reviewing a 20-year period when automakers in that country produced anywhere from 6 million to 10 million passenger cars annually, and 1 million or more trucks, according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.
Globally, Takata produced as much as 30% of the seatbelt webbing used by the industry. During the two decades before the Takata bankruptcy, industry data shows, worldwide auto production ranged from a low of 56 million a year to 97 million,
or well over 1 billion vehicles in total. Thus, the seatbelt scandal has the potential to dwarf what happed with Takata airbags which forced the recall of more than 100 million vehicles worldwide.
As with its airbag inflators, Takata provided seatbelt webbing to a broad portion of the industry, though Honda was its single-largest customer.
“Honda is aware of the Japan MLIT investigation related to seatbelts manufactured by Joyson Safety Systems, and we are currently working to determine the potential impact, if any, on our vehicles,” the third-largest Japanese automaker said in an e-mailed statement.
Among other manufacturers, Toyota told TheDetroitBureau.com that it is “working to identify the affected vehicle models, any impact on those vehicles, and any necessary future actions as soon as possible.”