The Takata Corporation’s airbag recall was just one of many recall fiascoes in the auto industry during 2014, but it appears that Takata’s drama is far from over: in a Justice Department announcement on January 22, it appears that the U.S. government recently filed an indictment against a Takata Corp. executive for attempting to fix seat belt prices.
The executive in question, Hiromu Usuda, was a high-ranking executive in Takata’s Customer Relations Division from January 2005 to February 2011.
According to the Detroit News, Usuda is one of 50 individuals whom the U.S. Justice Department is investigating for “price-fixing and bid-rigging in the auto parts industry.” The government has estimated that this particular price-fixing conspiracy affected more than 30 car parts in over 25 million vehicles sold to American consumers.
Takata Corp. has already plead guilty for price-fixing conspiracies, back in December 2013, and was required to pay $71.3 million in fines. Since then, four Takata executives have plead guilty for their personal involvement in the scheme and have been given U.S. prison sentences and mandatory fines.
The U.S. government, Automotive News notes, is one of several countries which have opened investigations regarding price-fixing in the auto industry — and it appears that each government is ready to prosecute individuals and companies to the fullest extent.
The auto parts which were affected in the conspiracy reportedly range from air conditioning systems to seat belts. While a broken air conditioner may not present much of a safety threat, the quality of a seat belt could mean the difference between life and death. Studies show that the majority (about 53%) of fatal injuries resulting from car crashes involve front seat passengers that failed to wear a seat belt, while a significantly smaller percentage of fatalities were found with passengers who were wearing seat belts.
Of course, if a seat belt were to malfunction due to low quality standards, then wearing it would make no difference in safety — which is why the price-fixing of seat belts is such a serious issue in the eyes of the Justice Department.
As for Usuda’s involvement with the seat belt price-fixing, his future isn’t looking too bright.
In the words of Brent Snyder, a U.S. deputy assistant Attorney General involved in the investigation, “Antitrust violators who refuse to accept responsibility for their crimes leave [the U.S. government] no choice but to indict.”