Honda has run its own tests of explosion-prone Takata airbags in the past months and found serious quality shortcomings, insiders said.
According to Reuters, the Japanese car maker lost patience waiting for Takata to explain what went wrong with the car safety devices that already killed five people, and ran a series of tests on about 100 to 150 airbags in used Honda cars.
The tests, conducted in Honda’s quality centre near Utsunomiya, north of Tokyo, in the first half of this year, indicated inconsistencies in the quality of the airbags, the Reuters sources said.
"We doubted if Takata was producing airbags to the specifications we had mutually agreed on," Reuters quoted one of the unnamed sources as saying. "When we did not receive a clear analysis of what was happening, we decided to conduct our own tests ... and we found the quality of those inflators to be all over the map in terms of key quality metrics."
The inflators, responsible for the malfunction which had already killed five people with pieces of metal torn out from the airbag’s casing, showed signs of ‘extreme sloppiness’, said the source. The inflators, a key part of an airbag, are designed to inflate the device in a fraction of a second after impact.
According to the source, the amount of ammonium nitrate and other ingredients in the inflators largely varied in the examined airbags with many going beyond predetermined margins of error as defined by Honda.
Some propellants that one of the individuals said he saw at the test centre showed colourings he attributed to damage from exposure to moisture, a leading theory for the fatal defect.
Takata, one of the world’s three largest airbag manufacturers and currently controlling about a fifth of the global market, has been a key supplier for Honda, part of a group of allied companies known as ‘keiretsu’.
The two companies have been collaborating for more than 25 years with Honda being Takata’s biggest customer. However, the ties have been largely shattered during the airbag crisis, which saw about 21 million vehicles recalled globally since 2008, 14 million by Honda alone.
Honda’s CEO Takanobu Ito has reportedly been disappointed with Takata’s attitude as the company failed to provide acceptable explanation for the failures and implement corrective action.
It was suggested Honda may be already looking to switch airbag suppliers and may not step forward to help save Takata from possible financial problems.
Takata denied that Honda tested used airbags because it was dissatisfied with Takata's explanations and said it had not been told of any quality problems found.
A Takata spokesman said: "If Honda did the kind of quality tests on Takata inflators you're describing, wouldn't you assume Honda would communicate with us, to ask us about the quality lapses they supposedly found? As far as we know, and we looked into it extensively, there has been no such communication between us."
Honda's chief spokesman Kaoru Tanaka confirmed that it conducts component quality tests at times when defects are suspected, but doesn't usually release the results or comment on specific tests.
Further automakers affected by the airbag affair are expected to conduct their own independent tests soon.
The affair has cast a shadow on the reputation of Japanese car makers famous for their meticulous attitude to quality control and safety.