A former engineer at Takata, the maker of about 50 million recalled airbag systems, says he tried multiple times in the late 1990s to talk Takata out of using the chemical propellant that proved to be dangerous. When Takata would not listen to him, Mark Lillie retired from the company.
After hearing of deaths and severe injuries from the airbags, Lillie went to the U.S. Senate Transportation Committee in 2014. Although he feared retaliation from the company, Lillie gave the federal government evidence, including company emails and design documents, that proved Takata knew of the problems with the airbags as far back as 1999.
A Tough Decision
Lillie said it was hard for him to be a whistleblower, but he decided that he had an ethical and professional duty to come forward when the safety and lives of people were at stake. Lillie’s wife supported his decision, saying that even though they could face problems from coming forward, it was the right thing to do, and it might save lives.
According to Lillie, others had sounded the alarm anonymously, but the media would not run the story until somebody came forward with their name. In addition to the Senate and the media, Lillie shared his information with the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department.
Authorities blame the Takata airbags for 23 deaths and more than 250 injuries around the world. Nineteen car manufacturers used the airbags in their cars and trucks. Tens of millions of airbags are part of the most extensive automotive recall in U.S. history. Millions of these airbags still need repairs.
Takata filed for Japan’s form of bankruptcy in 2017. Shigehisa Takata, the company’s top executive, resigned. Key Safety Systems (KSS), an American division of the Chinese company, Ningbo Joyson Electronic Corp., bought most of the assets of Takata but not its airbag operations, which Takata will continue to operate until replacement airbags are completed. KSS changed its name to Joyson Safety Systems.