Carmakers Ditch Takata

Carmakers Ditch Takata

Nissan joined Toyota and Honda in saying they won’t use key components made by Takata, as more automakers come out to distance themselves from the airbag supplier whose defective devices are behind the biggest ever automotive safety recall.

“In line with the recent announcement from the United States’ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, we have decided to no longer use inflators containing ammonium nitrate in airbags for future models,” Dion Corbett, a Nissan spokesman. “We will continue to put our customers’ safety first and work to replace the inflators in vehicles under recall as quickly as possible.”

Honda, Toyota and Nissan are the three companies with the most number of vehicles recalled because of Takata’s air bags, which have been found to rupture with excessive force and are linked to more than a hundred injuries and eight deaths. Tokyo- based Takata posted a 8.66 billion yen ($70 million) loss in the second quarter, and slashed its full-year net income forecast to 5 billion yen from 20 billion yen after incurring losses related to recalls.

“The inflator using ammonium nitrate produced by Takata will not be adopted by Toyota,” Akio Toyoda, Toyota president, said at a briefing in Tokyo Friday. “What’s most important above anything else is the safety and peace of mind of customers.”

Mazda said on Thursday its new cars will no longer use Takata airbag inflators, while Subaru-maker Fuji Heavy Industries and Mitsubishi Motors are considering the same. The comments follow Honda’s decision to stop using Takata inflators in new models and its accusation that the company manipulated test data.

The emerging rifts mark an unusual repudiation in Japan, where corporate relationships are measured in decades and Takata had counted on automakers’ support despite more than a year of criticism from US lawmakers and its auto-safety regulator. Even investors appeared to think the worst was over, with the stock up 14% this year at one point through May. The tide turned this week when Honda surprised the market and set the stage for a potential exodus of more customers.

“Although recall costs were piling up, Takata’s operational profits weren’t bad, which is why the market was optimistic,” said Chihiro Ota, general manager at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. in Tokyo. “But with customers now distancing themselves from Takata, investors started worrying about how the company can pay all those costs. What can ease this drop? Until we know how it happened and where the responsibility lies, the trend is down.

Honda’s desertion was significant as it led analysts to openly question Takata’s ability to survive and even President Shigehisa Takada acknowledged a risk to the company’s existence. Asked whether the company will survive, 49-year-old Takada told reporters, “there’s risk.”

Any blows to Takata’s air bag business are devastating because it’s the company’s largest product segment, at 38% of its ¥642,8bn in sales for the fiscal year through March. Inflators are only a portion of its airbag products, and other components the company has to fall back on include seat belts, steering wheels, electronics and child seats.

Takata has hired SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. to draw up a fundraising plan for the airbag supplier, with the financial adviser proposing an additional share sale as one of the potential options, according to people familiar with the matter.

“I really don’t see how they’re going to be able to survive as an inflator manufacturer,” Scott Upham, founder of Valient Market Research, who has followed the air bag industry for more than two decades. “When your major clients publicly come out and say that they’re not going to use your products anymore, it makes this very difficult to sustain your business.” Takata’s share of the global market for airbag inflators may fall to 5% by the end of the decade, from 22% last year, Valient estimates. “A lot of that is a result of losing major production contracts with their core clients, the Japanese,” Upham said.

Honda made its announcement hours after the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fined Takata as much as a record $200 million. The agency ordered the company to phase out ammonium nitrate-based inflators, linked to seven deaths and almost 100 injuries in the US, by 2018. NHTSA also said Takata provided “selective, incomplete or inaccurate information” to the agency and customers since at least 2009.

Other companies are stepping up to provide alternative supplies to carmakers. By March, Daicel Corp., Autoliv Inc. and TRW Automotive will make about 68% of those components, according to a letter Takata sent to NHTSA in July.

Honda, which has bought parts from the supplier for more than 50 years, said this week it will be able to get all replacement inflators from companies other than Takata in the foreseeable future. The carmaker will be buying the substitute components from all three of Takata’s competitors.