Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Takata: Faulty Airbags Cause Largest Recall in History (2013-2017)

Case Controversy

Takata is a Japanese company that has manufactured automotive parts since the 1930s.  More specifically, Takata has specialized in safety equipment for automobiles, including but not limited to: seatbelts, child restraint systems, and airbags.  A controversy regarding Takata’s airbags began in 2013, but it has been ongoing ever since with many new recalls issued and new information on why occupant safety is compromised with Takata airbags.

It seems that Takata’s airbags have several issues leading up to the safety concerns, and they begin with the use of ammonium nitrate, known to chemists as an unstable and quite volatile chemical.  This chemical is used in the airbag inflator, thus it is designed to have a quick working chemical reaction (explosion) in order to inflate the airbag as quickly as possible in the event of a crash.  The second issue stems from the first, but Takata did a terrible job protecting this “volatile” chemical inside the airbag assembly, and water (even high levels of humidity in the air) and high heat do not have a difficult time infiltrating the assembly, which causes a reaction with the unstable ammonium nitrate.  Because of both issues, it is entirely possible for a Takata manufactured airbag to explode in non-crash situations, causing injury and even death to the occupants both due to the actual airbag explosion or an accident related to an unnecessary airbag inflation.  In addition, the airbags have been known to explode more violently than they should, again due to ammonium nitrate, which could cause shrapnel to fly into the occupant’s face.

The ethical issues in this case are startling, especially since Takata manufactures safety equipment, designed to protect occupants, which can actually injure or kill them.  As of the present date, there have been approximately 180 injuries and 11 deaths in the U.S. because of the faulty airbags.  Furthermore, over thirty automakers have recalled vehicles affected by these airbags, including American, Japanese, British, and German manufacturers.  Trustworthiness is the biggest violation in this case, because it seems high ranking officials either knew about the possible negative effects of the chemical, or should have done the necessary research to ensure the chemical was safe for the task, but nothing was done in either case.
A few of the 30+ automakers that issued recalls.
Reported deaths have since increased.


Some of the major stakeholders in this case are all of the automakers that use and have used Takata airbags.  Though Takata is the company manufacturing the airbags, it is the automakers that have to bear the brunt of the recalls, and it is also those automakers who receive negative connotations due to those recalls.  On another note, it was also the automakers who purchased the Takata airbags, and it seems that their research into the product was questionable.  In addition, essentially everyone who owns a car and drives on public roads is a stakeholder.  The safety of drivers and occupants directly relies on the real-world performance of their airbags.  Also included are other airbag manufacturers, who are currently out of the limelight.  Takata's future actions as a company will have a major impact of the successes of other companies in this field.

Ethical Analysis - Individualism

In the Individualist viewpoint, it is very important maximize profits for the business owners, but to do so within the law.  The maintenance of the business's financial integrity thus relies on high ranking officials to make the correct decisions which result in increasing profits obtained legally.  Based on this definition of individualism, Takata's actions constitute "failed individualism".  A lot of companies simply think greed alone will fulfill individualism, but ethical business under this theory is actually a lot more complicated.  Frankly, it's hard to maximize profits when you know that you are screwing people, since it will almost certainly come back to bite you.  Again, Takata demonstrated very unethical behavior according to individualism.  Firstly, they broke the law by withholding the results of their safety testing from the public.  The law requires that airbags, and their fundamental designs, be tested for safety, since their job is to provide safety anyway.  Secondly, not only did Takata's high ranking officials not maximize profits for the company, they had to pay out billions of dollars.  In January 2017, Takata paid $1 billion to resolve the investigation, $25 million for a criminal penalty, $125 million in victim compensation, and finally $850 million in automaker compensation.

Ethical Analysis - Utilitarianism

Utilitarian ethics hinges on maximizing the happiness of all possible stakeholders of a company and/or case.  In Takata's case, it is certainly unethical under this viewpoint, as the vast majority of the stakeholders likely experience negative amounts of happiness.  The happiness for consumers who drive affected automobiles and consumers who were injured or killed by Takata airbags will be negative as well.  Same goes for the automakers, since their brands will have experienced some negative connotations from the large number of recalls.  The only group of stakeholders that may experience an increase in happiness are other airbag manufacturers who may be able to grow their businesses in the wake of Takata's scandal, but the lack of happiness from all other stakeholders far outweighs this happiness.

Ethical Analysis - Kantianism

Kantianism is an ethical theory that is based in respect for all individuals affected by a situation (or business) in some way, and emphasizes that individuals should be provided the information necessary to make their own decisions.  People should not simply be used in order to make a profit based in self interests, people instead can assist in growing profits if they are provided with a product that they want to purchase after being provided with all of the necessary information about the product.  Takata is unethical under Kantianism since they withheld (and reportedly destroyed) the results of the safety tests on their airbags.  Since they were hiding the information that would have resulted in "nobody" wanting to buy their product (including automakers at the first tier, and consumers buying the automobiles at the second tier).  Automakers and consumers were unable to make an educated decision about the product, and they were not given the respect of their individuality.  Also, this decision by Takata to use these faulty airbags was not made in good will at all, but certainly in self-interest.

Ethical Analysis - Virtue Theory

Virtue theory is pretty simple, and it's based on a number of good virtues that equate to good character in people.  Analyzing if something is ethical under virtue theory, or virtuous, can be done by seeking out any vices, the opposite of virtues, that the people or companies involved may possess.  In the case of Takata, several vices are obviously present, such as greed, dishonesty, and selfishness.  These vices alone are enough to deem Takata unethical under this theory, but I'd go farther to say that the breaching of the virtue "trustworthiness" is the most important wrong in this case, as stated in the case controversy outline.  When people drive, they are potentially putting their lives at risk, so they may trust their vehicles to have well designed safety equipment.  When it comes to safety, people may never trust Takata again.
Takata pleads guilty in the investigation. A woman
who suffered severe injuries is shown.

Justified Ethics Evaluation

As stated earlier, Takata is a Japanese automobile safety equipment manufacturer that has been around for over eighty years.  Their actions in the twentieth century, including the lack of good research and production of faulty airbags, are extremely unethical and morally wrong.  This is a crime of the most serious offense, since negligent research in the safety field results in the injury and death of human beings.  Although it may sometimes seem this way, businesses are not simply objects or entities, businesses are created by and made up of people, and there are people in the Takata company who should be held directly responsible for the deaths of about eleven people.  These people likely aren't "killers", but it's no excuse that they didn't want to spend the money on more research when their "state of the art" airbag innovation turned out not to be so great.  They have lost my trust, and frankly they don't deserve the trust of any consumer or automaker.  If Takata wants to survive as a reputable company, they need to do more than simply pay $1 billion dollars to end the investigation.  That says to me that they know they're wrong, but they don't care enough to fix the issues since they have enough money to cover the reparations. They need to go back to the drawing board and design a new airbag that doesn't have these issues.  The new airbag must then be stringently safety-tested by a third party, and the results need to be published for the general public.  Only then will they be able to gain some trust back from the consumers, and they may be able to once again thrive as a company.

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