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Takata Executive Apologizes To Consumers In Capitol Hill Testimony


One of the Takata Corporation's top executives was on Capitol Hill today. He was answering questions about why his company's airbags have been killing and injuring people instead of protecting them. Some Takata airbags have been exploding with too much force and sending metal shards flying at occupants, a problem that goes back nearly a dozen years.

NPR's Sonari Glinton has this report.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: The hearing into the Takata airbag problem began in dramatic fashion, even by Washington standards. Stephanie Erdman was injured in 2013. Erdman spoke in front of a large photo of herself taken in the emergency room after her accident.


STEPHANIE ERDMAN: When the impact occurred, shrapnel from my car's airbag shot through the airbag cloth and embedded into my right eye and cheek. I was instantly blinded on my right side.

GLINTON: Erdman, an Air Force Lieutenant, says the collision her car was involved in wasn't even that bad. She called it a moderate frontal impact. In photos you can see the headlights weren't even broken.


ERDMAN: My passenger only had mild scrapes and bruises. I should've not been injured in the shocking and terrifying way that I was.

GLINTON: Representatives from Takata, Honda and Chrysler were present. Hiroshi Shimizu, a Takata executive, testified. In his opening remarks he apologized to victims and customers.


HIROSHI SHIMIZU: We are deeply sorry about each of the reported instances in which a Takata airbag has not performed as designed.

GLINTON: After Shimizu's testimony, Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican from Nevada, had this question.


SENATOR DEAN HELLER: However I think there was something that was amiss in your testimony and that was that nowhere does it say that Takata takes full responsibility. So I want to ask you right now, does Takata take full responsibility for this tragic defect?

GLINTON: And after clarifying the question multiple times, Shimizu responded.


SHIMIZU: My understanding is our products in this accident worked abnormally so that's the cause of accident. From that sense, yes.

GLINTON: A yes from Takata. Here is Honda's Rick Schostek.


RICK SCHOSTEK: We failed Ms. Lieutenant Erdman and the dealers failed Lieutenant Erdman. We have a policy. Our dealers are independent franchisees, as you know. We communicate to them regularly about the importance of checking each car when it comes in for service to see if there are any outstanding recalls.

GLINTON: The process of how people are notified is a big issue. Right now, recall notices are mixed in with the regular mail and lawmakers say the importance of the recall isn't always apparent. Here's Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill.


CLAIRE MCCASKILL: I'll tell you what, if I get a letter saying we're investigating something, would you bring your car in so you can help us? I'm busy.

If I get a letter that says, hey, you know, if you drive this, you could have a piece of shrapnel embedded in your eye or you could die, that's a lot different than, hey we're checking out an investigation, could you bring it in so we could check it out?

GLINTON: While some auto executives were testifying in front of Congress, others have been gathering in Los Angeles for an auto show. John Krafcik used to head the American division of Hyundai and now runs a truecar.com. He says today's hearing is what he calls the new normal.

JOHN KRAFCIK: The pace of recalls and quantity of recalls that we're seeing right now, I don't see that changing ever. What will change and get better is the way we're able to notify folks about the fact that their car has a recall on it.

GLINTON: He says keeping people informed about safety issues and their cars is a big challenge the industry hasn't yet solved.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 20, 2014 at 11:00 PM CST
In the original version of this report we attributed some comments to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. In fact, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was speaking.
Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.