WASHINGTON -- Two US senators on Friday called for a criminal investigation of Japanese airbag maker Takata (IW 1000/904), as the New York Times reported it covered up a potentially lethal fault in its airbags.
"Reports that Takata concealed and destroyed test results revealing fatal air bag defects, along with other evidence that the company was aware of these deadly problems, clearly require a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice," said Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey.
"If the reports are true, the company must be held accountable for the horrific deaths and injuries that its wrongdoing caused," the senators said. "These allegations are credible and shocking -- plainly warranting a prompt and aggressive criminal probe."
Earlier Friday, the Times said that in 2004 Takata opened its own investigation of problems with its airbags, used widely throughout the global auto industry.
Citing former US employees of Takata involved in the internal investigation, the Times said that Takata's tests discovered problems with the airbags' steel inflaters that could lead to explosive ruptures.
"But instead of alerting federal safety regulators to the possible danger, Takata executives discounted the results and ordered the lab technicians to delete the testing data from their computers and dispose of the airbag inflaters in the trash," the Times reported, citing the employees.
The company later reported its first tests for the airbag problem in 2008, when a relatively small recall was made.
Since then automakers have recalled nearly 8 million cars inside the United States and millions more elsewhere because of the danger that an airbag could improperly inflate and rupture, potentially firing deadly shrapnel at the occupants of a car.
The problem has been reportedly tied to four deaths and multiple injuries, and in the United States Takata is already facing a class action lawsuit over the problem.
Affected automakers include Honda, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota.
The two senators, who serve on the powerful Senate Commerce Committee and are strong advocates for greater auto safety, have also urged the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to demand a nationwide recall of affected cars.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014