Calling it the largest fine in the history of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says his agency is imposing a civil penalty of $200 million on Takata over the company's handling of defective air bag inflators.
Nearly a third of the fine — $70 million — is "payable in cash," according to the Department of Transportation. The remaining $130 million would only be levied if Takata either fails to follow through on remedying the situation, or if more problems are uncovered, the agency says.
"I have to say, this has been a mess," Foxx said Tuesday, of a process that has resulted in 44 separate recalls and affected some 19 million vehicles. "And today, NHTSA is stepping in to clean up the mess."
Problems with air bags supplied by Takata have been blamed for seven deaths and nearly 100 injuries in the U.S., according to federal figures. Faced with evidence that its air bags have the potential to explode — and send metal fragments flying — the Japanese company agreed to declare the systems defective in millions of vehicles earlier this year.
Foxx blamed "delay, misdirection, and refusal to acknowledge the truth" for a safety crisis in which recalls that began as early as 2008 have repeatedly been expanded.
"We shouldn't even be here," Foxx said. "DOT should not have to place itself in the middle of a massive safety recall. Record-setting civil penalties are not something to brag about, and American drivers should not have to worry that a device designed to save their life might actually take it."
In announcing the civil penalty against Takata, Foxx also said the company won't be allowed to use ammonium nitrate as a propellant in new air bag inflators.
"We believe this chemical is a factor in these ruptures," Foxx said, adding that the combination of Takata's "delays and denial" and lingering questions about ammonium nitrate's safety led to the new prohibition.
If you're unsure if your car is covered by the recall, you can look up its status by using the Vehicle Identification Number, at the NHTSA site.
"For years, Takata has built and sold defective products, refused to acknowledge the defect, and failed to provide full information to NHTSA, its customers, or the public," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "The result of that delay and denial has harmed scores of consumers and caused the largest, most complex safety recall in history."