A top US auto safety regulator has fined Takata Corp $70m (£45.4m) for its handling of defective airbag recalls.The Japanese manufacturer was also ordered to stop making the explosive-prone airbag inflators that are blamed for eight deaths and more than 100 injuries worldwide.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the authority to add as much as $130m (£84.2m) to the penalty, based on a five-year agreement with Takata.
A $200m (£129.6m) penalty would be the largest ever imposed, surpassing the record $105m fine levied against Fiat Chrysler in July for failing to report safety issues.
Under the terms of the agreement, Takata admitted it knew the inflators were defective, but failed to recall them in a timely manner.
Investigators said the airbags can inflate with too much force during a crash and shoot out metal shards.
High humidity was identified as being a primary cause of the airbag propellant becoming volatile, but the company and investigators have yet to discover the exact cause for the rupturing.
Since 2013, some 23.4 million airbag inflators have been recalled on 19.2 million US vehicles from 12 automakers.
Under the deal announced on Tuesday, Takata must adhere to a schedule for recalling the inflators “now on the roads, unless the company can prove they are safe or can show it has determine why its inflators are prone to rupture”, the NHTSA said.
Anthony Foxx, head of the US Department of Transportation, told a news conference: “Unless new evidence emerges, the company will have to recall all of its inflators.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, called the fine a slap on the wrist.
He said: “The penalty seems small compared to the consequences of the concealment and disregard” for the law.
The NHTSA said an independent monitor will make sure Takata abides by the terms of its agreement.
The company, meanwhile, still faces hundreds of lawsuit and a criminal investigation led by the US Justice Department.