Japanese air bag maker Takata files for bankruptcy protection

Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. has filed for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., overwhelmed by lawsuits and recall costs related to its production of faulty air bag inflators.

The company announced the expected action Monday morning Tokyo time. Takata confirmed that most of its assets will be bought by rival Key Safety Systems, based in suburban Detroit.

Takata was done in by defective air bag inflators that can explode with too much force, spewing out shrapnel. They’re responsible for at least 16 deaths and 180 injuries and have touched off the largest automotive recall in U.S. history. So far 100 million inflators have been recalled worldwide including 69 million in the U.S., affecting 42 million vehicles.

Rival Key Safety Systems, based in suburban Detroit, will buy most of Takata’s assets for $1.6 billion and take over its manufacturing operations to make seat belts, air bags and other automotive safety devices, according to two people briefed on the matter.

Some remnants of Takata will be folded into an entity with a different name to keep manufacturing inflators used as replacement parts in recalls, said the people, who didn’t want to be identified because the bankruptcy terms have not been made public.

The recalls, which are being handled by 19 affected automakers, will continue.

At least $1 billion from the sale will be used to satisfy Takata’s settlement of criminal charges in the U.S. for concealing problems with the inflators. It was unclear what the rest of money paid by Key will be used for. Key is owned by Ningbo Joyson Electronic Corp. of China.

One of the people briefed on the filings said that Key would get Takata’s assets “free and clear” of past or future liabilities. That makes it unclear whether anyone injured by inflators in the future would have any legal recourse against either company.

Takata’s troubles stem from use of the explosive chemical ammonium nitrate in the inflators to deploy air bags in a crash….

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