A senior Takata executive defended the embattled Japanese auto parts firm Thursday before a US Senate panel investigating faulty airbags tied to several deaths and hundreds of injuries.
Hiroshi Shimizu, Takata's senior vice president for global quality assurance, said his company took responsibility for three US deaths related to what he labelled "anomalies" in its airbags.
But he did not expand that acceptance of responsibility to a broader series of airbags installed for at least a decade in millions of cars from 10 major manufacturers.
And he did not agree with a call earlier this week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for a full nationwide recall of cars with the suspect Takata airbags.
Takata is accused of knowing for years about the problems, in which its airbags can deploy with excessive explosive power and send shrapnel into a car's passengers, without making them public.
"We are deeply sorry about each of the reported instances in which a Takata airbag has not performed as designed and the driver or passenger had suffered personal injuries or deaths," Shimizu told the Senate Commerce Committee.
"While each instance of an airbag failure is terrible and unacceptable to Takata, it is also important to remember that Takata airbags continue to deploy properly as they were designed in accidents."
"We recognize the three victims' cases are related to our product, but to my understanding, two others are under investigation."
Shimizu admitted that the company had in the past discovered two problems with some of its airbags, regarding propellant pressure and, more recently, humidity control.
But he insisted that every time an "anomaly" appeared, the company addressed it.
Witnesses who appeared before the panel, which earlier this year blasted General Motors for its negligent handling of a deadly faulty ignition problem, included a woman who lost sight in her right eye from shrapnel from a Takata airbag in her Honda.
"My accident involved a moderate frontal impact. The headlights on the front of the vehicle weren't broken. My passenger had mild scrapes and bruises," said Stephanie Erdman.
"I should not been injured the way I was."
Shimizu was grilled over a New York Times report that said Takata knew of the airbag problem in 2004 but avoided informing automakers or the NHTSA. He questioned some of the details about the report but said that from 2005 Takata had addressed all problems as it became aware of them.
But NHTSA deputy administrator David Friedman said the agency has more questions about Takata's actions and is demanding all the company's records on the issue.
"It's been made clear to us that Takata does not have good quality control and good record-keeping," he told the panel.
Automakers and Takata made some recalls during 2008-2013 to address one known issue causing the airbags to fire in a dangerous manner.
But in response to evidence of a more recently understood problem, that cars in generally hot and humid areas have a higher risk of explosive airbag deployments, they have limited new recalls to only a handful of US southern states.
Friedman said that the newer problem had not caused any deaths. The four deaths in the United States believed tied to the rupturing Takata airbags all involved vehicles that had been covered in previous recalls in 2008-2013, he noted.
"Tragically, in at least some of those cases, the airbag in the vehicle was not repaired even though the recall had begun," he said in prepared testimony.
But Friedman said the humidity problem with the Takata airbags was a serious one and required immediate action.
Although the agency earlier this week urged automakers to recall Takata-equipped cars nationwide, he said making the recall mandatory only in some humid states ensures that available replacement airbags go to the highest-risk areas.
"At this point, a national recall of all Takata air bags would divert replacement air bags from areas where they are clearly needed, putting lives at risk."