Tataka, a company based in Tokyo, was for decades a pioneer in automotive safety devices that include seatbelts (actually illegal in the U.S. prior to the 1950s) and child safety seats. It was also an innovator when it came to air bags, now standard equipment on all newly-manufactured vehicles.
Ironically, the Takata product that was originally intended to save lives has caused at least six deaths around the world and hundreds of severe injuries. The cause is a component known as an “inflator,” which contains the gas used to inflate the bag in the event of a collision. These inflators have been exploding into shards, sending jagged shrapnel into the faces and upper bodies of drivers (one reporter described the injured as looking as if they had been stabbed or even shot – and in a few cases, police had even believed victims had been assaulted).
The alleged cause is the type of gas that Takata used, based on highly-volatile – but very inexpensive – ammonium nitrate. Some may remember this chemical having been used on the domestic terrorist attack that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City two decades ago. For Takata, it was apparently a matter of dollars and cents. The gas commonly used in inflators, other than Takata inflators, belongs to a class of artificial chemical compounds known as tetrazoles. Unlike ammonium nitrate, tetrazoles are stable, but expensive to manufacture.
What investigations have shown is that in warm, humid, semi-tropical and tropical environments, ammonium nitrate reacts chemically with the metal material used in the inflator housing, causing it to weaken. This is why the small canister literally explodes and turns into deadly shrapnel when the airbag is deployed.
Takata denies that cost was a consideration when the decision was made to replace the tetrazole gas with ammonium nitrate. The fact nonetheless remains that in between this massive recall and the injury lawsuits that have followed, Takata stands to lose far more than it had planned to gain.
For more information regarding the Takata airbag litigation, visit Levin Papantonio Takata Airbag Lawsuit web page.