Chinese-owned Key Safety Systems Inc. has emerged as the leading bidder for Takata Corp., the embattled air bag maker that’s seeking a buyer after causing the biggest safety recall in automotive history.
An external committee appointed to spearhead Takata’s restructuring recommends Key Safety, the Tokyo-based supplier said in a statement Saturday, adding that no final decision has been made. Key Safety’s main rival in the auction, Autoliv Inc. of Sweden, is more interested in purchasing parts of Takata if the Japanese company files for bankruptcy protection and needs to sell some business units, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Takata said that no decision has been made whether the company will go through court-led restructuring. While Takata has said it doesn’t envision reorganization through a court-led bankruptcy — which would disrupt the supply of parts — the company’s shares and bonds have plunged since reports that bidders are leaning toward such a step for the company as it will shield them from liabilities.
If a deal is struck, it would end another long and difficult chapter for Takata. The supplier has admitted to hiding the deadly risks of its exploding air bags for about 15 years in an agreement to pay U.S. regulators, consumers and car manufacturers $1 billion in penalties. The mounting liabilities have forced the company to seek an acquirer that could get it through a costly restructuring process.
Takata faces a recall that’s expected to cover more than 100 million air bags. Its faulty products have been linked to at least 17 deaths worldwide. The new owner would have to work out a restructuring plan to minimize the supplier’s exposure to future liabilities, including the costs for replacing the air bags, and ensure a stable supply of replacement parts.
Negotiations will continue and a final agreement isn’t expected this weekend, people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified because the talks are confidential. As of Saturday in Tokyo, Key Safety, which is based in Sterling Heights, Michigan, hasn’t secured exclusive negotiating rights and hasn’t completed due diligence, said one of the people.
A Key Safety representative declined to comment, while a call to Autoliv’s offices outside regular business hours wasn’t returned.
Key Safety, bought by China’s Ningbo Joyson Electronic Corp. last year for about $920 million, is the world’s fourth-largest air bag maker and had revenue of $1.6 billion in 2015. Buying Takata would give Key Safety greater access to Japanese automakers and the combined company would pull closer in market share to leader Autoliv.
Autoliv “would, under certain conditions, be interested in certain parts or participating in this restructuring,” Chief Executive Officer Jan Carlson said on the company’s earnings conference call Thursday. “But this is, at the end of the day, an OEM decision,” he said, referring to the carmakers that carry Takata air bags in their vehicles.
Both Autoliv and Key Safety are adding manufacturing capacity to increase air bag inflator production as Takata’s recalls boost demand.