Kevin Fitzgerald on General Motors and the Growing Death and Injury Toll from Takata Airbags

Twenty-four people have died and hundreds have been seriously injured from exploding Takata airbags.

In 2000, Takata knew about the problem with their ammonium nitrate inflators, they knew they were exploding in their own labs, and they covered up the problem.

Takata chose the ammonium nitrate-based propellent without a chemical drying agent or desiccant. Other airbag makers, like Autoliv, rejected the ammonium nitrate inflators.

Environmental moisture, high temperatures, and age can improperly inflate the airbags and even send shrapnel into the occupant.

Now people are dying.

The man who went to the FBI with the documented evidence of the corporate crime was a Takata engineer and executive – Kevin Fitzgerald.

And as a result, in February 2017, Takata pled guilty and paid $1 billion in fines and restitution.

Fitzgerald is now out with a tell all book, co-authored with David Schumann  – In Your Face: An Insiders Explosive Account of the Takata Airbag Scandal. (recallawareness.com)

His top priority now is to get the automakers to recall the more than 100 million cars with defective Takata airbags, get them off the road and prevent further deaths and injuries.

Right at this moment, Fitzgerald is concerned about General Motors.

“GM has audaciously submitted four petitions of inconsequentiality to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to avoid repairing nearly seven million of Takata’s un-desiccated passenger inflators found in their most popular pickups and trucks,” Fitzgerald writes in his book. “This makes them the only automaker to resist the deadly recall. Takata has deemed these inflators defective, yet GM continues to inundate the government with nonsensical reports, generated by so-called ‘experts’ they hire to say the opposite. The superfluous data and flawed arguments they advance are nothing but a poorly veiled attempt to overwhelm and confuse NHTSA, which lacks the technical competency to sort through the obfuscation.”

“We know GM’s inflators well and they are no different than any other Takata PSAN inflator under recall. Claims that they have a ‘special’ design that is kept safe from disaster by unique features found in their pickups and SUVs, are simply put, complete bullshit.”

“The only way to rationalize GM’s behavior is to see it as immoral. It seems they have coldly calculated that settling with those who will be killed or maimed by their airbags is more cost effective than paying the $1 billion to bring them back. They are determined to wait us out, hoping we will give up the fight as they submit petition after petition.”

“And where is NHTSA? Missing in action, devoid of an executive or a backbone since the day Trump took office. People will die if GM is not forced to remedy these vehicles. PSAN is a cancer. It has a latency period and the sooner it is cut out, the better. GM and NHTSA refuse to pick up the scalpel. We must demand they do.”

For much of his professional career, Fitzgerald was with the military.

One day in 2000 when he was working at Takata’s production facility in LaGrange, Georgia, walking up a staircase when he heard a loud noise.

“In 2000, I was an applications engineer at Takata in LaGrange, Georgia. We were manufacturing inflators there,” Fitzgerald told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “I remember clearly in the spring of 2000 going up the stairs and hearing a really loud noise. Immediately, I realized an inflator had just come apart. I ran down the stairs, ran into the test lab. The door was locked, which happens automatically when there is a problem. A crowd of people were gathered around. And I quickly discerned that it was one of the inflators that were in production validation.”

You know there are these exploding inflators. But you see a report written in June of 2000 to Honda saying – no problem with the inflators.

“They said that it was perfect.”

They are telling Honda there are no problems?

“Yes. When I got a copy of that report, I said – we have to write what really was happening. I heard things blowing up. That’s when I asked my colleague Tom Sheridan to get into all the data. Nobody scrubbed the data from the server. It was all there, tied to the test serial numbers. We were able to piece the whole thing together.”

“That was only a month or so before production was to start. I could tell there was no slowing the train. They were going to production regardless of this anomaly. There were two in process validation that ruptured. They take the developed inflator and they run it on the production line. And they run it through a full environmental sequence. And two of them ruptured in environments that included temperature cycling and moisture. When I saw there was no stopping the train of production, I asked my colleague to put a real report together.”

“When we finished that report, I presented it to my supervisors. I put it into document control and sent it to all the key people in Takata and wrote their names on the front of the cover. When I gave that report to the FBI, the FBI knew who it went to.”

You are saying the people at Takata had data showing there were problems, the problems you heard with your own ears. And they fixed the numbers so that the report to Honda would say — there are no problems.”

“That’s correct. And that is in the criminal indictment.”

That’s the key to your story. Takata knew this was a problem, and they lied to their customers. That was the basis of the criminal indictment.

“But that’s not the key to my story. That’s in the past. The key to my story is why we cannot leave these inflators out there.”

Eventually, you were brought before the FBI. You turned over the information you had. It was the basis for the end of Takata.

“I wasn’t brought before the FBI. I went to the FBI. I had my documents subpoenaed. My lawyers had my documents subpoenaed so that I could turn them over to the FBI.”

What was the role of the automakers in this coverup?

“There are so many lawyers who have asked me exactly this question. They want me to tell them that the automakers knew about the problem. But in 2000, Honda certainly didn’t know. There was deception by Takata against every customer.”

Tell us about the problem with General Motors.

“GM has filed four petitions of inconsequentiality. Just that word – inconsequentiality – disgusts me.”

What is a petition of inconsequentiality?

“GM is saying that their tests say the inflators will last forever. There is absolutely nothing different about the inflators in the seven million GM vehicles than the tens of millions being recalled by over a dozen automakers right now. It is pure greed.”

Is GM the only company not recalling?

“They are the only company refusing to recall inflators deemed defective by Takata. They have no desiccant in them. And similar inflators have ruptured. I can’t get anybody to take it seriously. Their arguments are pathetic.”

Have there been any deaths in GM cars from exploding inflators?

“No. But if you look at the article I wrote, there is an inflator pulled out of a GM vehicle, tested and it was on the edge of rupturing. GM claims that their cars magically keep Takata inflators from blowing up. How is that possible?”

Are you a fan of airbags?

“I’m a huge fan of airbags and one of the airbag makers – Autoliv. I have a tremendous amount of respect for that company. But below Autoliv and TRW, there are a lot of people in this business who don’t know what they are doing.”

Did Autoliv blow the whistle on Takata inflators?

“They might have come out early and said – we played with ammonium nitrate and decided to stay away from it. But they never blew the whistle on Takata, from what I understand. But many inflator developers came out and said – they looked at ammonium nitrate and they walked away from it because of its sensitivity to moisture.”

Why did Takata go with ammonium nitrate?

“This is a question that gets misrepresented in the press all the time. Everybody says that Takata chose ammonium nitrate because it is dirt cheap. It is dirt cheap. But ammonium nitrate is only an oxidizer. In order to burn propellant, you need a fuel and an oxidizer. To burn ammonium nitrate cleanly, you need expensive fuels. It was a cost wash. But ammonium nitrate is 97 percent gas efficient. It converts almost all the gas, so Takata could make the lightest, smallest widget on the market. That’s what Honda wanted. Honda always paid premium for their stuff. They never wanted cheap.”

It wasn’t a question of money. It was a question of size. And Honda was pressuring for a smaller one?

“Yes. The whole market was pressuring – everything has to be smaller, lighter, cheaper.”

[For the complete q/a format Interview with Kevin Fitzgerald, see 33 Corporate Crime Reporter 48(13), December 16, 2019, print edition only.]

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