Honda said Monday that it failed to report 1,729 incidents in which one of its vehicles caused an injury or death.
Blaming the failure on “inadvertent” data entry and computer programming errors, Honda said an independent audit of its records between 2003 and 2014 discovered the failure to provide accurate incident reports to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon, Rick Schostek, executive vice president of Honda, said the company also was slow to react when it discovered its quarterly safety reports were flawed.
“Honda acknowledges that it lacked the urgency needed to correct its problems on a timely basis,” Schostek said, reading from a prepared statement.
He declined to take questions about the audit, saying it hadbeen filed with NHTSA on Monday and citing the possibility of further lawsuits from injured Honda owners.
“We received Honda’s response to our Special Order and will immediately begin reviewing the documents as part of our ongoing investigation into Honda’s failure to report airbag-related injuries and deaths in a timely manner,” said Kevin Vincent, chief counsel at NHTSA.
At issue is the Takata air bag that NHTSA says has been installed in at least 5 million Hondas, as well as millions of vehicles made by other major auto manufacturers worldwide. At least five people have died and scores were injured when Takata air bags sprayed them with shrapnel when they deployed during crashes.
The working theory has been that the air bags’ inflator canisters can malfunction when exposed to consistently high humidity.
Honda, Takata’s biggest customer, has recalled 6.2 million cars with Takata air bags worldwide, and 4.1 million in humid regions of the United States.
Instead of reporting all 2,873 claims involving deaths or injury over the 11-year period, the audit found that Honda told NHTSA only about claims that had been denied. The 1,729 it failed to report were those it paid and counted as warranty claims. One of the incidents involved a death.
NHTSA last week asked Honda and nine other automakers — BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota to provide documents and a sworn detailed account of all past or current testing they did of Takata inflators outside current recall areas.
NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman said he would take steps to force the nationwide recall if the companies are reluctant. Friedman said only the automakers can say for sure how many vehicles that would involve, but it has been estimated it could amount to 20 million cars and cost Takata an estimated $852 million.
Takata has resisted the call for a nationwide recall, suggesting it should focus on more humid regions where replacement air bags are most needed.
If the recall goes nationwide, it will be one of the largest in U.S. automotive history. Takata air bags are installed in 1 in 5 vehicles worldwide.
Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.V.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) sent Takata a lengthy list of questions they said were unanswered by Hiroshi Shimizu, a Takata vice president, at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last week.
The senators want to know whether Takata engineers questioned the safety of using ammonium nitrate as a propellant in the air-bag canisters. They also asked for internal documents and communications that they believe could point to a coverup of the defects by Takata employees.
The senators asked for details of Takata’s ability to produce replacement air bags in sufficient quantity to keep up with the recalls.
“Mr. Shimizu was unable to sufficiently answer many questions about the current production and safety testing of replacement air bags for vehicles currently covered by recalls or safety improvement campaigns,” Rockefeller and Nelson wrote to the company’s chief executive, Shigehisa Takada. “As a result, we still have many significant questions about the circumstances surrounding Takata’s manufacturing of defective air bags and their widespread distribution and installation in vehicles sold and driven in the United States.”