Nearly 20 million vehicles have been recalled thanks to Takata airbags, which can explode and have been connected to eight US deaths. Now, the New York Times reveals internal emails that show Takata employees were manipulating testing data as far back as 2000—around the time the company introduced a new inflater. (The airbag inflater contains the propellant, ammonium nitrate, and it's that part of the Takata airbags that can shatter.) The emails appear pretty explicit: One airbag engineer wrote, "Happy Manipulating!!!" in reference to airbag test results in a 2006 email, and later in that email chain, wrote, "Hey, I manipulated," and suggested using "thick and thin lines to try and dress ... up" test results "or changing colors to divert attention." Takata says the engineer was merely talking about formatting a presentation, but the Times talked to four airbag experts who say the emails appear to be talking about misrepresenting data.
American engineers first attempted to blow the whistle on test result discrepancies in 2000, noting that airbag ruptures had been reported to Honda as normal deployments. And the engineer mentioned above had actually first raised concerns, in 2005, that he had been "repeatedly exposed to the Japanese practice of altering data presented to the customer" in a move that was likely "fraud." It's not clear what changed between that memo and the emails he sent in 2006. Two months ago, when Honda announced it was dropping Takata as its airbag supplier, it referred to "misrepresented and manipulated" testing data, but the company won't confirm whether it was referring to the information presented in these emails, which were unsealed as part of a personal injury lawsuit against Takata. "To have these kinds of offhand remarks shows that this is a systemic issue at Takata," says one former Takata engineer and whistleblower. Adds another expert, "This is really bad." Click for more details from the emails.