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Feb. 20, 2015, 4:22 p.m. EST

U.S. fines Takata over air-bag investigation

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By Mike Spector

By Mike Spector


Bloomberg
Takata Corp. child car seats sit on display at a showroom in Tokyo, Japan,

Federal regulators slapped Takata Corp. with fines of $14,000 a day, accusing the Japanese supplier of not cooperating with a continuing probe into defective air bags.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Friday said Takata   would be forced to pay the fines every day until it better cooperates with earlier requests from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for documents and other materials related to the government’s ongoing investigation into the faulty air bags.

The air bags, which can rupture and spray shrapnel, are currently linked to at least six deaths. Foxx in a news release called “unacceptable” Takata’s “failure to fully cooperate with our investigation.” A NHTSA spokesman said the agency needed help from Takata understanding a trove of more than 2.4 million documents the supplier provided, a “Herculean” effort to which the agency was “devoting every resource.”

Takata said it was “surprised and disappointed” by regulators’ actions on Friday, adding the company strongly disagreed with the characterization it wasn’t cooperating. The air-bag manufacturer said it has been meeting regularly with NHTSA engineers to get to the bottom of the safety problem and continues to keep regulators “closely informed on the extensive testing efforts we have undertaken,” including as recently as last week.

The fines escalate tensions between regulators and Takata, which has resisted requests for broader vehicle recalls beyond those in certain humid regions where the company deems consumers most at risk. Takata on Friday said initial tests it has performed support the company’s view that heat and humidity are a common factor in air-bag inflators that have malfunctioned.

The penalty of $14,000 a day, for violating two orders, is double what regulators levied against General Motors Co. last year for failing to answer questions related to a deadly ignition switch that can slip out of the run position and cut power to air bags and other safety features.

An expanded version of this report appears at WSJ.com.

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