U.S., Takata nearing agreement on $1 billion fine

Settlement could include a guilty plea to criminal misconduct, report says

The U.S. Justice Department and Takata are nearing agreement on a $1 billion criminal settlement that would include a guilty plea to criminal misconduct, the Wall Street Journal reports.

It's expected that Takata would pay part of the penalty upfront and the rest over a number of years, the report said. Takata has been trying to sell itself and is said to be considering a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, so how much of the fine would actually be paid could be in doubt.

Takata has had to recall millions of airbags because of faulty inflators that can explode with excessive force in hot and humid conditions. At least 11 deaths and 184 injuries have been attributed to the airbags in the U.S.

The recall process has been painfully slow despite repeated attempts by federal safety regulators to take the brakes off. On Dec. 12, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued what's called the "Amended Coordinated Remedy Order." It sets deadlines for when automakers must have replacement parts available for customers. 

“NHTSA is doing everything possible to make sure that there are no more preventable injuries or deaths because of these dangerous airbag inflators,” said NHTSA Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind. “All vehicle owners should regularly check their vehicles for recalls at SaferCar.gov and go get them fixed at no cost as soon as replacement parts are available.”

Consumers frustrated

Of course, the problem is that many thousands of consumers have done just that, only to be frustrated when their dealer was unable to make the repairs because of lack of parts. NHTSA has also been frustrated by the delays and has tried to speed things up previously but says that, this time, it aims to get results.

At last count, there were about 46 million recalled Takata airbag inflators in 29 million vehicles in the U.S. Another NHTSA order issued in May 2016 requires automakers to recall an additional batch of inflators over the next three years, ultimately recalling nearly 70 million inflators in 42 million vehicles. 

NHTSA has committed to seeking a 100 percent recall completion rate, but as of Dec. 2, automakers reported they have so far repaired approximately 12.5 million inflators, roughly a quarter of the total number currently on the recall list.

"Ultimately all frontal Takata inflators using non-desiccated phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate (PSAN) will be recalled," NHTSA said.

Whether the settlement agreement would include any kind of compensation for consumers isn't known. The newspaper report said final agreement was not expected until January at the earliest. 

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