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Auto Parts Supplier Takata Fined $70 Million For Defective Airbags


It's a big day for car news. First the good news, at least for carmakers. Most automakers posted strong sales in October. Toyota, Hyundai and Subaru set records. But also, there's bad news. The flood of recalls continues, and today the Department of Transportation fined the auto parts supplier Takata $70 million for its defective air bags. And here to talk about it is NPR's Sonari Glinton.

Hi, Sonari.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: It's good to be with you.

MCEVERS: Takata is in the news because - and this is going to sound kind of scary - its air bags can go off with so much force that it will send shrapnel flying into a car's passenger cabin. I mean, is this $70 million fine the end of it?

GLINTON: Well, the $70 million could go up to $200 million if Takata doesn't cooperate with government regulators. The government also made an unprecedented move by making the company stop making inflators that use ammonium nitrate as the propellant, and that's what could potentially make the air bags go off with too much force. And it also says it's going to make a much more - take a much more active role in recalls in general with this company.

MCEVERS: And Takata air bags are in at least 19 million cars made by 12 different carmakers. I mean, fixing all those air bags in all those different cars seems kind of like a big job.

GLINTON: It's a monumental task. And the problem is that Takata is so widespread. There are estimates that it could take as long as four years to fix all these cars. What's interesting about this is that we get the fine, but we don't get a lot of the details about the problem. So we don't know exactly how many cars are going to be involved because we know those numbers are going to up. And we still don't know the exact reason for why, you know, these air bags are going off with too much force. And to, you know, bat back some criticism, the Department of Transportation is taking a much more active role by monitoring the company and its recall efforts.

MCEVERS: But remember, I mean, we started with that good news for carmakers - record sales, right? I mean, why are cars selling so well right now?

GLINTON: Well, there is pent-up demand and car sales are up across the board, even, surprisingly, a little bit at Volkswagen. Other automakers - they're doing everything they can to boost sales. Volkswagen has given, for instance, buyers thousands of dollars off vehicles, and Ford is stepping up its incentive programs. Takata is not a customer-facing company, so it doesn't have to worry as much about public opinion. But we do know from the past that recalls take a long time to seep into our brains and to make us think about them and the problems. Which is a good reminder for each of us, including you, Kelly...


GLINTON: ...To go to safercar.gov, which is a government website where you can put in your vehicle identification number and figure out if your car has been recalled.

MCEVERS: Well, thanks Sonari. Sonari Glinton covers business, cars and the business of cars, and he joined me here at NPR West. Thanks.

GLINTON: It's good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.