Honda, Takata were aware of faulty airbag design in 2009: Report [Update]

Honda knew about Takata\'s deadly airbag design in 2009.

Updated with statement from America Honda Motor Co.

Honda has confirmed that it was aware of Takata's defective airbag design as early as 2009, but the company failed to inform U.S. regulators about the potential safety risk until years later.

That potentially damaging revelation was discovered following a review of Takata presentations and internal memos. Those documents revealed that Honda secretly asked Takata to develop a "fail-safe” airbag inflator after it observed four injuries and a death linked to its vehicles' airbags.

Honda spokesman Chris Martin confirmed to Reuters that the automaker requested the design change, but add that the redesign was to "protect against the possibility of future manufacturing errors - it was not an acknowledgement of a larger design flaw in the inflators.” Martin added that Honda did not inform U.S. regulators of the design change request.

The new airbag inflator design, which featured additional gas vents that helped funnel pressure away from the driver, was first installed in some vehicles in 2011. Honda still uses the same airbag design today.

Reuters reached out to the NHTSA for comment on Honda's legal obligation to inform the administration about the airbag design change, but spokesman Bryan Thomas declined to give a statement. It remains unknown at this time if Honda's actions broke any laws.

The news, however, could put Honda in the legal cross-hairs of several liability suits. Honda, along with Takata and several other automakers, are facing federal, state and potentially class action lawsuits stemming from the defective airbag design.

"You can't say, ‘It's a supplier problem, not ours, so we don't have to talk about it,” Peter Henning, a corporate law professor at Wayne State University, said. "They are responsible for every part on their car and also responsible to report a problem with any part on that car.”

So far Honda has recalled 8.5 million vehicles due to the airbag defect, with the vast majority of those occurring in 2014 or later.

Statement from Honda: "Honda categorically rejects the assertion that a redesigned airbag inflator component is evidence that the prior inflator design contained a safety defect. As technology evolves, Honda and other automakers regularly work with suppliers to make design changes.

It was Honda's understanding at the time that all inflator ruptures were due to Takata manufacturing errors associated with a previous inflator design. Thus, Honda's request to Takata to incorporate a change into a new airbag inflator design, was prudent on our part. Importantly, we are aware of no customers experiencing rupture events with the new inflator design.

Regarding Honda's reporting obligations, Honda does have an obligation to report safety defects to NHTSA, and we fully comply with this requirement. However, it is not NHTSA's expectation, nor the industry practice, that automakers will automatically report every new inflator design to NHTSA."

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