The president of embattled Japanese auto parts maker Takata stepped down Wednesday over an airbag scandal linked to at least five deaths that has sparked the recall of millions of vehicles.

The company also announced pay cuts for top executives, who have faced a barrage of criticism for remaining largely silent on the brewing crisis, amid claims that the firm hid evidence of the defects for years.

Stefan Stocker resigned from his post but will stay on the company's board, while Chairman Shigehisa Takada will take on the Swiss executive's role, in addition to his current job.

The apparent demotion of Stocker, who only joined the company last year, was designed to "further unify the company's handling of the airbag recall problem and to accelerate and strengthen the decision-making," it said.

Takata's chairman, whose grandfather started the company, will take a 50% pay cut while Stocker's salary will be reduced by30%, both for four months, the company said.

Three other board members will see their pay temporarily reduced by 20%. 

Temporary pay cuts are a common show of contrition among under-fire Japanese executives.

"The company sincerely apologizes to those whose lives were lost, their family members and people who were injured due to the company's defective airbags," it said in a separate statement issued Wednesday.

Takata's top quality official has faced a grilling in U.S. congressional hearings, its Tokyo-listed shares have plunged, and it's facing civil lawsuits and criminal investigations over the problems.

Millions of vehicles made by some of the world's biggest automakers, including Honda, Toyota and General Motors, have already been recalled due to the risk their airbags could deploy with excessive explosive power, spraying potentially-fatal shrapnel into the cars.

Police reportedly investigated one driver death as a murder due to the grisly injuries, before turning their focus to the car's airbag.

The bulk of the recalls -- reportedly topping 20 million vehicles -- are in the United States as defective airbags were mostly made in Mexico.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014