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Car and Driver: Takata May Quadruple Airbag Recall, Financial Outlook In Danger

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Takata

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It’s fast becoming DEFCON 1 at Takata, which may have to quadruple its recalls of shrapnel-shooting airbag inflators.

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Anonymous former Takata employees told Reuters that as many as 285 million Takata inflators with ammonium nitrate—the cheaper propellant Takata switched to in 1999 and kept using, despite repeated safety concerns by its own engineers—could be affected. Takata built roughly 260 million to 285 million inflators between 2000 and 2015, according to Reuters, with about 120 million destined for U.S. vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is allegedly debating whether Takata should recall the remainder of its ammonium-nitrate inflators, as two U.S. senators have been urging the agency to do since last summer. This could mean tens of millions of additional cars under expanded recalls.

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Currently, more than 24 million vehicles from 24 brands have been recalled in the United States. Due to reports of poor record keeping and quality control—particularly at its North American plants in Mexico, Georgia, and Washington—the company has no idea how to distinguish defective parts from the entire lot. High humidity in factories without air conditioning, broken pieces within the inflators, and other manufacturing red flags have been raised as culprits, but despite knowing of defects as far back as 2000, Takata so far has not identified the problem in full.

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Worse, for Takata anyway, is the potential of the airbag crisis to ruin the company to the point of bankruptcy. According to its 2015 annual report (for the fiscal year between April 1, 2014 through March 31, 2015), airbags are Takata’s single-largest business, at 38 percent of global sales. More than 42 percent of its entire sales, which also include seat belts, steering wheels, interior trims, child seats, and other parts, are made within North America. When Takata filed the annual report on August 31, CEO Shigehisa Takada downplayed any possibility of insolvency.

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“We have been staying closely in touch with our main banks and automaker customers, and we believe we have the financial framework in place to manage Takata through the situation,” he wrote.

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But since then, two more deaths have been recorded due to the company’s airbags, another five-million-plus cars have been recalled, NHTSA fined the company $70 million, Japan banned all ammonium-nitrate inflators from future cars, five automakers declared they would stop buying such inflators from Takata, and much more. While Takata reported a $22 million profit for the nine months ending in December and plans to net $44 million by the end of its fiscal year on March 31, the company so far has recorded more than ¥64 billion ($565 million) in losses specifically related to the airbag defects. As of December 31, Takata grossed $4.8 billion in sales during that same nine-month period and had about $537 million in cash reserves.

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But the cash may not last. Automakers will likely force Takata to pay for more of their recall costs, and the class-action lawsuits are already lining up. Takata reportedly is looking to sell its interiors division, Irvin Automotive Products, for an unknown sum, according to the Wall Street Journal. To date, company share prices have tumbled 63 percent since NHTSA announced sanctions and penalties on November 3.

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so, nearly 300 million airbags made. not even half for the US. yet only a sixth are recalled? now what other vehicles could be affected?

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