Japan's Takata, maker of defective air bags that have been linked to 11 U.S. deaths, could settle criminal charges with the U.S. Department of Justice before the Obama administration leaves office next month. Part of a settlement would include Takata pleading guilty to criminal misconduct. The Justice Department has investigated whether Takata hid information from safety regulators and issued misleading statements about the dangers posed by the air bags. Any deal would likely include a monitor to ensure Takata's compliance with the agreement.
The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, reported earlier on Wednesday that a settlement could require Takata to pay as much as $1 billion and be reached as early as January. The precise amount Takata pays could be considerably less than $1 billion and be paid over several years. Both Takata and the DoJ declined to comment. Takata air bag inflators have been linked to at least 16 deaths worldwide, including the 11 U.S. deaths. The inflators can explode with excessive force and send metal shrapnel inside cars and trucks. There is no guarantee the talks will wrap up by Jan. 20, when Obama leaves office.
Monitors similar to the one that could be installed for the Takata case have been appointed as watchdogs in two recent major U.S. auto safety recalls involving General Motors Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. Regulators have said recalls would eventually affect about 42 million U.S. vehicles with Takata air bag inflators, making this the largest safety recall in U.S. history. Takata and the Justice Department have held talks for months about reaching an agreement.