Dems accuse Takata of 'widespread manipulation' of airbag tests

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Democrats in the Senate are accusing Japanese auto parts company Takata of "widespread manipulation" of air bag inflation tests after a recall that involves millions of U.S. vehicles. 

report from Democrats on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation alleges that "numerous internal documents and emails reference the widespread manipulation of inflator testing results by Takata employees." 

"Emails and documents reviewed by Committee minority staff reveal a culture within Takata that, at a minimum, did not prioritize the safety of its products – and perhaps operated with an utter disregard for safety," the report says. 

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"In a meeting with Committee staff, Takata representatives stated that the most serious data manipulation occurred in 2000; however, emails and documents reviewed by Committee minority staff demonstrate that these data integrity issues continued even in the years after the airbag recalls began, when fatalities had been linked to rupturing airbags," the report continued. 

Takata has come under fire since issuing a recall in late 2014 of about 8 million cars with faulty airbags that could explode when deployed in humid conditions. The recall was later expanded to include another 17 million cars after federal regulators put pressure on Takata.

The defective airbags were used in cars manufactured by companies including Honda, Lexus, Volkswagen and Chrysler. Accidents involving the defective air bags have been linked to eight deaths so far. 

The top ranking Democrat on the Senate transportation panel said the new findings reveal an indifference about safety within Takata's ranks. 

“These new documents speak for themselves,” Sen. Bill NelsonBill NelsonSenators seek state revenue sharing for offshore drilling Congress prepping short-term FAA bill Overnight Finance: McConnell tees up Puerto Rico vote | Britain's credit rating slashed | Clinton vows to appoint trade prosecutor MORE (D-Fla.) said in a statement. “There is no doubt in my mind that Takata failed to prioritize the safety of its products.” 

Takata said Tuesday it has "previously stated the issues raised in the documents cited in the Senate committee report are entirely inexcusable and will not be tolerated or repeated.  

"Expert analysis, extensive testing, and independent review show that the issues with validation testing of the original phase stabilized ammonium nitrate inflators are not the root cause of the field ruptures that have occurred with Takata inflators, but these issues are totally incompatible with Takata’s engineering standards and protocols," the company said in a statement that was provided to The Hill.

The company has publicly apologized for the faulty air bags amid congressional inquiries into its handling of the defective parts. 

"Takata is deeply sorry for all fatalities and injuries that have occurred in any case where a Takata airbag inflator has failed to deploy as intended," the company said again on Tuesday.  

Takata has reached a $70 million settlement with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) over the recalls that have been linked to the defective airbags. 

Updated at 5:29 p.m.