Takatas Hiroshi Shimizu Copyright Win McNamee, Getty Images

Hiroshi Shimizu, Takata's senior vice president of global quality assurance, testifies before the House Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee Dec. 3 in Washington.

Takata Vows to Boost Airbag Safety Effort in Open Letter

Chairman Shigehisa Takada said his family company understood public concerns and was "saddened" by the deaths of at least five motorists in the U.S. and Malaysia.

Japanese auto parts maker Takata (IW 1000/904) has published an open letter in major U.S. and German media, vowing to step up its safety record after an airbag crisis hammered the company's reputation.

Chairman Shigehisa Takada said his family company understood public concerns and was "saddened" by the deaths of at least five motorists in the U.S. and Malaysia who allegedly were killed after a defective air bag exploded, firing metal shards into the vehicle.

"Since its founding, Takata's number-one priority has been the safety of the traveling public," said the letter published Thursday in several major newspapers including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

"Even one failure is unacceptable and we are truly and deeply saddened that five fatalities have been attributed to auto accidents where Takata airbags malfunctioned. We understand the public's concerns and we take them seriously.

"I am personally committed to do what is necessary for Takata to regain the full confidence of the public and our customers."

The letter comes on the back of heavy criticism directed at Takata's top executive for remaining largely silent on the issue, and amid claims that the firm hid evidence of the defects for years.

Takata's top quality official has faced a grilling in U.S. congressional hearings as the company faces 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.

Takata's letter noted that the firm has been working with the U.S.'s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and automakers on recalls.

It also pledged to "dramatically" expand the company's safety testing regime and boost production of replacement parts.

Earlier, Takata said it had hired three former U.S. transportation secretaries to advise it on manufacturing reforms and dealing with current airbag issues.

Root Cause of Airbag Safety Issues Remain Puzzling

Amid worries that the company still does not know the root cause of the problem, the finger of suspicion has been pointed at a gradual deterioration, rather than a manufacturing fault.

In response, Japanese automakers are mulling the introduction of airbag expiration dates, according to Fumihiko Ike, chairman of Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.

Ike, who is also Honda's chairman, told reporters Thursday that informal talks on the idea are underway.

Honda is Takata's biggest airbag customer and holds about 1.2% of Takata shares, which plunged as much as 50% in the wake of the scandal.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014

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