Joseph Braun on His New Film Ticking Time Bomb The Truth Behind Takata Airbags

There’s a good chance you or someone you love is driving one of 100 million cars with a pipe bomb ticking away in their steering wheels. 

Kevin Fitzgerald

Japan’s Takata Corporation put defective airbags in one out of every four cars on American roads, including some of the most expensive rides in the world – BMW’s, Mercedes, Ferraris, and Teslas – but expect no help from the manufacturer or the government. 

Takata’s airbags have already killed or maimed more than 350 people and are on track to blast at least 2,000 more.

That’s the promo to Joseph Braun’s new documentary film Ticking Time Bomb: The Truth Behind Takata Airbags.

The film follows former Takata insiders Kevin Fitzgerald and Jerry Cox as they unveil a deadly corporate cover-up leading to the largest international recall in history. 

Ticking Time Bomb showcases evidence that top Takata engineers and executives were informed in early reports the airbags were dangerous explosives before and after they went to market. 

More than 100 million vehicles worldwide continue to be driven with defective airbags as the recall continues, and most drivers have no idea their airbag may be the next to cause irrevocable harm – or death.

Braun’s bread and butter is making 30 second video ads for Fortune 500 companies. (His company is called Best 30 Seconds.) 

Braun is also an ordained minister.

Who did you interview for your documentary?  

“Kevin Fitzgerald and his co-author Dave Schumann,” Braun told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last month. “They wrote a book called In Your Face: An Insider’s Explosive Account of the Takata Airbag Scandal. But the interview was in October 2018, before their book came out. We had a pre-interview over Skype. I flew them out to Atlanta.” 

“Based on their writings, I was able to form questions and a story arc around where the problem originated and why Takata chose ammonium nitrate and what the corporate culture was like. Kevin was incredibly helpful. He was the first person I interviewed for the film. And then Dave Schumann.” 

In February 2017, Takata pled guilty and paid $1 billion. Three Takata executives were indicted, but they remain in Japan, fugitives from justice. Without Kevin Fitzgerald, there probably wouldn’t have been a criminal prosecution of Takata.

“Without Kevin, this film probably wouldn’t have been made. When I reached out to the victims and attorneys of the victims, I was able to say — the key whistleblower is going to be central to this film. That is where it took off. This has been a two year project.” 

“I interviewed a couple of attorneys who represented victims. I have interviewed international journalists who covered the story. It’s a collective story. I interviewed one of the victims — Stephanie Erdman. She was absolutely a gem on camera.”

Stephanie Erdman

“I interviewed Jerry Cox who worked for Takata as their crisis communicator,” Braun said.

Cox is the author of Killer Airbags: How to Protect Yourself from the Worst Disaster in Automotive History.

“Takata knew before these canisters went into production that there were fundamental flaws. They continued to produce them for 17 years while lying and covering it up. The second half of the film focuses on the complacency of our own Department of Transportation. They are complicit in not actively getting the problem solved.” 

How long is the film?

“It’s currently over 100 minutes.” 

What are your plans for distribution?

“As soon as the film is complete, I will seek to secure a sales agent and begin conversations with distributors. We probably in the next two to three weeks will have a new trailer.”

Kevin Fitzgerald says this on his Twitter account: “My Mission: Extradite the three indicted #Takata Executives to the United States, put them behind bars for the crimes they committed, and take all the deadly #airbags they lied about off the road.”

Do you focus on the executives who were indicted?

“We mention them but we do not focus on them. It’s a passing moment within the film. The focus of the film is warning the driving public about the danger. The historical fact of what went down is barely the first act. This is not a case study of what took place in 2000. This is an active problem. The film focuses on you as the driving public having to protect yourself because the auto industry is not taking this as seriously as they should.” 

The Australians figured out a way to fix the problem. They will not allow their DMVs to register the vehicle until the airbag is replaced.

“Yes. That’s the point. There are so many ways to solve this problem. And you have to ask yourself – why don’t we go with simple solutions like that? They will not let you register your car if you don’t get the problem fixed.” 

“Kevin speaks openly about this. NHTSA won’t even publish a list of every vehicle that has a Takata airbag in it. They only publish a list of the recalled airbags. There is a huge distinction there. There are tens of millions of vehicles out there in the world that have Takata airbags in them that have not been recalled. That’s why we are making the film.”

Jerry Cox

There are 30 million in the United States that have not been recalled. They have a desiccant in them and that is supposed to delay the problem.

“Everybody agrees that the desiccant doesn’t fix the problem.”

In our interview last week with Jerry Cox, he talks about Steven Bradbury, the former Takata lawyer who is now general counsel at the Department of Transportation.

“Yes. I don’t use the term corruption. But they are either complicit or really people making bad decisions. I cannot wrap my head around why they would choose not to recall these airbags when everybody in their right mind says they are every bit as dangerous. The only benefit for having the desiccant is that it might buy you some time.”

Did the fact that you are an ordained minister have anything to do with you making this movie?

“I don’t think cognitively on the front end it did. But my sense of justice or telling the truth had something to do with it. I’m all about being nice. I don’t want to be a jerk. But I want to tell the truth. I want the truth to be known because peoples’ lives are at risk. Wouldn’t you want to know if you were driving one of these things or your daughter, if she was driving one of these things? And right now, we don’t even have the opportunity to know, unless it is under a recall.”

Before you started making this movie, did you know of anyone who was injured or killed by these airbags?

“I had seen the image of Stephanie but I was not following the story closely enough to know. My Toyota had a recall. I looked into it and I was appalled at some of the images I saw. Outside of Kevin Fitzgerald, Stephanie was the number one person I wanted to interview. She represents every daughter, mother, sister I’m trying to save. There is a sense of trying to save lives.” 

“Jerry Cox estimates that somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 people are going to be injured or killed by these airbags. That’s a horrific thought. It’s preventable.”

Do you sense that one problem in gaining traction on this issue is that the numbers of deaths –  30 – and injuries – 300 or so – are relatively low given the large number of vehicles with these airbags in them?

“If you can look at it from a mathematical point of view, absolutely. But it’s an ethical problem to me, not a mathematical or statistical one. It’s rationalized that way. But people are not thinking that these are human beings. They don’t deserve to die by the very product that was designed to save them. Who gets to determine who those people are? Nobody is volunteering to be killed by these.”

You work with Fortune 500 companies to make these 30 second videos. That’s your bread and butter. Are you concerned at all that by branching out and making a documentary about corporate crime that this will hurt your business?

“No. It’s possible, but I also wonder what opportunities it might open up. I don’t view it as a loss, even though it’s possible. I view it as doing the right thing. That’s exactly what Kevin Fitzgerald did. Did Kevin want to lose his job, destroy his career, pay money to defense attorneys? I don’t think he wanted to, but you are faced with this reality of – you have information that you have to tell. It’s almost a violation of who you are if you possess that information and don’t do anything about it.”

[For the complete q/a format Interview with Joseph Braun, see 34 Corporate Crime Reporter 41(13), Monday October 26, 2020, print edition only.]

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