Takata quietly parts ways with two top North American executives

Takata executive Kevin Kennedy testified at a hearing of a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the Takata airbag recall in Washington on June 2, 2015. Photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Troubled Japanese auto supplier Takata Corp. has quietly parted ways with two top executives and the general counsel at its North American unit, Automotive News has learned, and the company isn’t saying who is now running the subsidiary based in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Former Takata North America President Kevin Kennedy and former Executive Vice President Robert Fisher are no longer with the company, according to their LinkedIn profiles and a former Takata insider with knowledge of the situation. It was unclear whether the two executives were terminated or resigned, although the former insider said the departures were sudden and unexpected.

Kenned played a public role in testifying for Takata at a June 2, 2015, hearing in Washington of a U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the company’s airbag recall crisis. At the time, he was executive vice president of the North American unit.    

According to his LinkedIn profile, Kennedy became president of the subsidiary in December 2015 until his departure in January.

Fisher’s profile does not include an end date for Takata, but it says he started his own business, R. Fisher & Associates, in January.

Eric Laptook, general counsel, chief safety and compliance officer, also is no longer with Takata’s U.S. unit, also known as TK Holdings Inc. A secretary answering the phone in the law office of TK Holdings said Laptook no longer works for the company.

It is unclear exactly when or why the three men left, who is filling their roles and why Takata did not announce their departure. A Takata spokesman declined to comment.

Efforts to reach the three executives for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Takata has been embroiled in the largest recall in the history of the auto industry, with an estimated 100 million defective airbag inflators being replaced worldwide. The defective airbags have been linked to 16 deaths globally, 11 of them in the U.S.

Criminal action

Last month, Takata agreed to plead guilty to a charge of wire fraud in connection with its cover-up of the faulty inflators that lasted over several years. The company agreed to pay $ 1 billion in a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department. Three former Takata executives in Japan were indicted on fraud and conspiracy charges, but it remains unclear whether the U.S. will seek extradition.

“They falsified and manipulated data because they wanted to make profits on their airbags,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said during a press conference in Detroit last month.

The supplier faces up to $ 10 billion in potential liabilities for the ongoing recalls, penalties and settlements, according to some analysts. Takata was negotiating with potential buyers in Japan last month, but it wants to avoid using court protection to complete the sale.

“Misleading media reports of a court-led turnaround are regrettable, as we are not assuming that such a course will be decided,” the company said in a statement from Japan last month. “A court-appointed restructuring may disrupt our supply chain and affect our ability to pay suppliers, and may pose risks to our stakeholders.”

Responsibility in Japan

The former Takata insider said the recent departure of the U.S. executives and general counsel “strongly indicate senior leadership at Takata is either unable or unwilling to see how this entire fiasco was allowed to happen.”

“The responsibility is at the very top in Japan, not with more scapegoats,” the source wrote in an email.

Takata’s airbag inflators can explode with excessive force and break a metal canister, spraying shrapnel into the vehicle. U.S. regulators have warned certain car owners not to drive their cars if they have Takata airbags.

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