Japanese airbag maker Takata has pledged to impose tighter quality control on its suppliers after recalling millions of its products due to serious safety concerns.
The airbags, which can reportedly explode with extreme energy, shooting pieces of metal casing on to drivers and passengers, have been at the centre of a major scandal that has hit the automotive industry. Twenty million vehicles having been recalled to date.
Forced to boost production to replace millions of airbags, the company promised to keep closer control on quality standard compliance of their suppliers. It was suggested earlier that shortcomings in handling of the explosive material at two factories of Takata’s suppliers in Mexico and the US could have been responsible for the malfunctions.
"Takata has become extremely strict when it comes to quality control now," a source, who was present at a closed-door meeting between Takata and its suppliers, told Reuters.
According to the source, Takata plans to inspect 40 of its 100 suppliers of key parts before the end of the year and audit the remainder of the firms in 2015.
Suppliers said the way the inspections were carried out did not differ much from regular quality checks made by Takata, but they highlighted the speed and the unusual sense of urgency with which they have been announced.
"This time it was different. This inspection had not been planned before and was announced out of the blue during the meeting," said the person involved. "They came to my factory within one, two weeks from setting the date."
Takata, one of three major global airbag manufacturers and the current number two in the industry, has been criticised for its handling of the scandal. Earlier this month, the company’s CEO Shigehisa Takada was summoned by Japan’s Ministry of Economy following allegations of widespread cover-ups.
The affair is a major blow to the reputation of Japanese car makers known for their meticulous safety and quality control. Japan's prominent manufacturers including Toyota, Honda and Nissan have been seriously hit by the affair.
“It is difficult to know if the allegations of cover-ups pointed at Takata are true,” said Paul Smith, director of Shinka Management, an Australian consultancy company that provides training to western manufacturers to implement Japan-developed lean manufacturing methods.
“The claim that Honda didn’t report 1,700 incidents related to the airbags when it was required to do so is quite surprising. We visit auto manufacturers in Japan regularly, and the approach to quality and safety is certainly not lip service – they take these very seriously. Their priorities are safety and quality and only after those do they consider productivity – that is always the order.”
Although Takata has not positively identified the ultimate culprit of the fault, instances of quality consistency issues had been reported in the past.
In 2006, engineers at the company's Monclova, Mexico plant found that welds on airbag inflators were failing because steel pipes shipped from a Japanese supplier had too much carbon, according to an engineering report.
As some of the faulty airbags were manufactured up to ten years ago, identifying the exact cause may be difficult, if not impossible, experts have warned.
Earlier this month, US safety regulators and federal prosecutors urged the company to recall all vehicles sold in the US that could have possibly been equipped with the malfunctioning airbags that have killed five people.