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Takata to face US Senate hearing over faulty airbags

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Japanese airbag manufacturer Takata will face a US Senate hearing next week as lawmakers investigate the firm's defective airbags now linked to at least five deaths.

Takata officials have been called to testify next Thursday before the Senate Commerce Committee on the circumstances surrounding a series of vehicle recalls beginning in 2008 for defective airbags manufactured by Takata.

"The most recent recalls for Takata airbags now encompass 10 automobile manufacturers and affect 7.8 million vehicles in the United States," the committee said in a statement.

"The hearing will focus on how defective Takata airbags became installed in so many vehicles and the responses of both automakers and NHTSA to remedy the safety defect to protect consumers."

It was not immediately known whether officials of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration have been called to testify at the hearing.

The NHTSA, the US auto safety regulator, has expanded its "urgent" warning to owners of cars with affected airbags to take them to dealers to fix the problem.

The Japanese auto parts maker's faulty airbags can explode when inflating, firing potentially deadly shrapnel into the car's occupants.

Four deaths have been claimed in the United States related to the problem, and on Thursday Honda said an exploding airbag had killed a woman in Malaysia.

Two Commerce Committee members, Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey, have called on the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation of Takata, after The New York Times last week reported the company had covered up a potentially lethal fault in its airbags.

Quoting former Takata employees, the Times reported that tests were conducted a decade ago, but executives ordered the destruction of data that exposed design flaws.

On Thursday, Takata denied the Times report, saying the tests were carried out on an airbag part that was unrelated to the inflator mechanism at the center of the problem.

"Our company did not carry out such test (on inflators) in 2004, and we absolutely did not cover up test results, as reported in the story," Takata said in a statement.

"This was not a 'secret' test... The story is based on an inaccurate understanding of the facts, and it defames our firm and employees."

Honda on Thursday announced an additional recall of more than 170,000 vehicles worldwide for the defective airbags.

Affected automakers also include BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota.

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