DETROIT (AP) — Japanese auto parts maker Takata Corp. pleaded guilty to fraud Monday and agreed to pay $1 billion in penalties for concealing an air bag defect blamed for at least 16 deaths, most of them in the U.S.
The scandal, meanwhile, seemed to grow wider when plaintiffs’ attorneys charged that five major automakers knew the devices were dangerous but continued to use them for years to save money.
In pleading guilty, Takata admitted hiding evidence that millions of its air bag inflators can explode with too much force, hurling lethal shrapnel into drivers and passengers.
The inflators are blamed for 11 deaths in the U.S. alone and more than 180 injuries worldwide. The problem touched off the biggest recall in U.S. automotive history, involving 42 million vehicles and up to 69 million inflators.
The company’s chief financial officer, Yoichiro Nomura, entered the guilty plea on…