Japan’s Takata Corp, the firm at the center of the auto industry’s biggest ever product recall, filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States and Japan, and said it would be bought for $1.6billion by U.S.-based Key Safety Systems.
In the biggest bankruptcy of a Japanese manufacturer, Takata faces tens of billions of dollars in costs and liabilities resulting from almost a decade of recalls and lawsuits. Its airbags have been linked to at least 17 deaths around the world.
TK Holdings, its U.S. operations, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Delaware on Sunday with liabilities of $10 billion to $50 billion, while the Japanese parent filed for protection with the Tokyo District Court early on Monday.
Takata’s total liabilities stand at 1.7 trillion yen ($15 billion), Tokyo Shoko Research estimated.
Final liabilities would depend on the outcome of discussions with carmaker customers who have borne the bulk of the replacement costs, a lawyer for the company said.
The filings open the door to the financial rescue by Key Safety Systems (KSS), a Michigan-based parts supplier owned by China’s Ningbo Joyson Electronic Corp.
In a deal that took 16 months to hammer out, KSS agreed to take over Takata’s viable operations, while the remaining operations will be reorganized to continue churning out millions of replacement airbag inflators, the two firms said.
The U.S. company would keep “substantially all” of Takata’s 60,000 employees in 23 countries and maintain its factories in Japan. The agreement is meant to allow Takata to continue operating without interruptions and with minimal disruptions to its supply chain.
“We believe taking these actions in Japan and the U.S. is the best way to address the ongoing costs and liabilities of the airbag inflator issues with certainty and in an organised manner,” Takata CEO Shigehisa Takada said in a statement.
Takada said he and top management would resign “when the timing of the restructuring is set.” His family – which still has control of the 84-year-old company – likely would cease to be shareholders.
Jason Luo, president and CEO of KSS, said in a statement the “underlying strength” of Takata’s business had not diminished despite the airbag recall, citing its skilled employee base, geographic reach and other safety products such as seat belts.
The companies expect to seal definitive agreements for the sale in coming weeks and complete the twin bankruptcy processes in the first quarter of 2018.
The filings have, however, not resolved all issues. Honda Motor, Takata’s biggest customer, said it had reached no final agreement with Takata on responsibilities for the recall. Honda said it would continue talks with the supplier but anticipated difficulties in recovering the bulk of its claims.
It also faces potential liabilities stemming from class action lawsuits in the United States, Canada and other countries.
Global transport authorities have ordered about 100 million inflators to be recalled. Industry sources have said that recall costs could climb to about $10 billion.
The ammonium nitrate compound used in the airbags was found to become volatile with age and prolonged exposure to heat, causing the devices to explode.
Costs so far have pushed the company into the red for three years, and it has been forced to sell subsidiaries to pay fines and other liabilities.
Founded as a textiles company in 1933, Takata began producing airbags in 1987 and at its peak became the world’s No.2 producer of the safety products.
It also produces one-third of all seatbelts used in vehicles sold globally, along with other components.
The Tokyo Stock Exchange said its shares would be delisted on July 27. The stock has collapsed 95 percent since January 2014 as the recalls mounted.