Toyota Executive Backs Takata’s Handling of Safety Crisis

A top Toyota Motor Corp. executive offered support for how air-bag maker Takata Corp. is handling a safety crisis affecting millions of vehicles, days after expanding its own recalls for the second time in four months.

“They’re doing what they’re supposed to do: understand the root cause, and then learn from it and reflect and put countermeasures in place,” Steve St. Angelo, head of Toyota’s Latin American operations and former chief quality officer for North America, said today in Tokyo. “There’s nobody in our business that’s perfect.”

The comments by St. Angelo represent the first public show of support by a senior automaker executive since Takata’s flawed air bags prompted the U.S. government to stress that motorists show urgency in getting their cars fixed. Toyota President Akio Toyoda named St. Angelo to overhaul the company’s safety processes during its unintended acceleration crisis.

The National Highway Safety Administration this week called for vehicle owners to immediately replace Takata air bags that may be defective and spray metal shrapnel at passengers. The components are the subject of investigations of at least four deaths involving Honda Motor Co. cars.

“Toyota’s not one just to dump a supplier,” St. Angelo said. “Have they ever eliminated suppliers? Yes. But it’s really, really tough. We will exhaust every opportunity to help that supplier first.”

Takata was unchanged at 1,686 yen at the close in Tokyo trading after plunging 23 percent yesterday, the steepest drop since its 2006 listing.

Takata’s Cooperation

“We’d like to do as much as we can to cooperate on this issue with Toyota,” Hideyuki Matsumoto, a Takata spokesman, said by phone.

Toyota has publicly backed its suppliers before in the midst of a recall crisis. The automaker issued a statement commending gas-pedal maker CTS Corp. in January 2010 for its efforts to fix flaws that were part of the more than 10 million vehicle recalls for defects leading to unintended acceleration.

By working out problems with its vehicles along with suppliers rather than cutting ties, parts makers are more loyal to Toyota, St. Angelo said.

“They know you’re not here just for this model, you’re here for the lifetime,” he said. “It’s like a marriage.”

Toyota’s words of support for Takata exposes the carmaker to risks. The parts maker and NHTSA are still investigating the cause of defects in Takata’s air bag inflators that the regulator says has led to recalls of 7.8 million vehicles by 10 auto companies.

Inconsistent Disclosures

In addition to its struggles to grasp the full extent of the problems with its air bag inflators, Takata has been inconsistent in its public disclosures.

Takata issued a June 20 statement in Japanese that included an apology by Chief Executive Officer Shigehisa Takada, whose grandfather founded the business in 1933. The company’s statement in English didn’t include the apology by the 48-year-old CEO.

Japanese carmakers including Toyota recalled more than 3 million vehicles in April 2013 due to the defective air bag inflators made by Takata. The Tokyo-based parts maker provided new information to its customers indicating the flaws were more widespread, prompting automakers to call cars back again and expand their safety campaigns in June.

The recall efforts intensified this week as Toyota called back 875,000 vehicles, most of which were involved in previous safety campaigns. The Toyota City, Japan-based carmaker also said it would advise U.S. vehicle owners against letting passengers sit in front seats of recalled cars until air bags are replaced, a step it took four months earlier in Japan.

Takata said in a statement today that any additional costs beyond the 45 billion yen ($421 million) one-time charge booked in its first quarter “should be very limited.” Its shares erased gains after NHTSA expanded its tally of recalled cars.

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