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Takata taps former US transport chiefs in safety crisis

Takata Corp, the Japanese air bag supplier at the center of a growing auto safety crisis, said on Tuesday that it is forming an independent quality panel headed by former White House chief of staff and U.S. Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner.

The panel will audit and report on the company's manufacturing processes, which have been called into question after several deaths and serious injuries linked to air bags deploying with too much force and spraying vehicle occupants with metal shrapnel. The report will be made public.

Takata also appointed two other former U.S. transportation secretaries, Rodney Slater and Norman Mineta, to serve as special counsels as the company struggles to handle a series of recalls related to defective air bags.

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Chief Executive Shigehisa Takada said his company will take "dramatic actions" to increase output of the replacement air bag inflator kits needed as part of the evolving recalls. That includes working with rivals and examining whether their products can be used safely, he said.

"I know we can and must do more," he said in a Tuesday statement.

Takata will look to boost production at its factories in Asia and Europe as well as its Monclova, Mexico plant. The company said it is increasing monthly output of the replacement kits starting in January to at least 450,000 from about 350,000 now.

Takata executives declined to address whether the company supports calls by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to expand an initial regional recall of driver-side air bags to all 50 states.

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Hiroshi Shimizu, Takata's senior vice president for global quality assurance, said in testimony ahead of a U.S. congressional hearing on Wednesday that any broader recall should be phased in to give priority to U.S. regions with higher humidity.

The NHTSA had given Takata until Tuesday to declare that its air bag inflators were defective and issue a national recall. The Nikkei reported on Tuesday that Takata was preparing to comply, but the issue was not addressed in the prepared testimony and the company didn't respond to a request for comment.

Some safety advocates have argued that the recall needs to cover passenger, as well as driver-side air bags, but NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman said in separate written testimony that such an approach "is not supported by the data as we now understand it."

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Honda North American executive vice president Rick Schostek said in his testimony that a national recall would lead to parts shortages, but the Japanese automaker was "seriously considering" a national recall of the driver-side air bag inflators.

Takada also said the company is working with outside scientists, including those who specialize in the explosive propellant materials used, to evaluate the cases where the company's air bag inflators ruptured.

Toyota North American vice president Abbas Saadat said in his testimony that the automaker wants "additional assurances about the integrity and quality of Takata's manufacturing processes." Toyota also called on Tuesday for a coordinated, industry-wide initiative to independently test Takata air bag inflators subject to recalls.

Takata has collected more than 20 terabytes of data in response to requests for information from U.S. safety regulators and is producing more than 360,000 pages of documents for regulators.