TOKYO — Pressure on the auto supplier Takata to acknowledge potentially deadly faults in its airbags has been building for years, yet as recently as this month it looked as if the Japanese company was determined to resist.
At a briefing on Takata’s latest business results on May 8, executives went so far as to suggest the worst was over. The company, they predicted, would return to profit in 2015 after a single year in the red because of the cost of providing replacement airbags for millions of recalled vehicles.
Although they said lawsuits and potential new recalls were risks, they insisted those issues were too vague to quantify.
Then came Takata’s change of heart on Tuesday, when it admitted that its airbags were defective and agreed to double the number of vehicles recalled in the United States, to nearly 34 million, in the largest auto safety recall in history. Takata’s share price plunged as much as 12 percent in trading in Japan on Wednesday as investors tried to digest the potential impact on Takata’s already weakened finances.
Several converging forces most likely prompted Takata to change tack, experts said. American safety regulators and lawmakers have been tightening the screws, fining the company up to $14,000 a day for what they said was insufficient cooperation. Some members of Congress have been calling for a criminal investigation of the company.
Regulators in Japan have been quieter. But Takata’s business partners — many of which are based in Japan — have also been growing impatient with its response to the crisis, according to people familiar with relations between the company, its customers and the banks that are crucial to financing its operations.
“The message was, essentially, ‘We won’t lend you more money until you sort this out,”’ said one person familiar with discussions between Takata and its banks, who was not authorized to speak publicly. “There was pressure coming from all sides.”
The company’s admission and the new recall could tilt relations between Takata and its clients in favor of the automakers, experts said.
“As long as it was carmakers issuing the recalls and the cause wasn’t pinpointed, Takata could say it was up to them to pay,” said Takaki Nakanishi, an auto analyst and chief executive of the Nakanishi Research Institute.
Takata declined to comment on Wednesday.
Automakers have increasingly been taking the lead from Takata in investigating why some of Takata’s airbags can rupture violently when they deploy. Six deaths and more than 100 injuries have been linked to shrapnel-like debris sent flying by exploding Takata airbag inflaters.
Last week, Toyota recalled nearly five million more vehicles over the problem, part of an expanded recall of 11.5 million vehicles by three Japanese automakers. Nissan and Honda were the others. Toyota said it had made the decision based on the results of its own testing, which it said revealed that some of the steel inflaters in Takata airbags were not airtight.
That finding was echoed in the admission on Tuesday by Takata, which said it had discovered leaks in some of inflaters that could allow moisture to seep in over time. When that happens, the chemical propellant inside breaks down, making it more susceptible to exploding violently.
”It was getting clearer that not just Takata, but carmakers like Toyota and Honda, were doing tests and getting closer to discovering the real cause,” said Koji Endo, an auto analyst at Advanced Research Japan. “At a certain point, it’s no longer sensible for Takata to keep quiet.”
In its accounts for the past fiscal year, Takata recorded a one-time cost of 60 billion yen, or about $500 million, for expenses related to the recalls. That could now balloon to ¥250 billion or more just based on the additional vehicles that need fixing, Mr. Endo calculated, even before any renegotiation with automakers on how to split the costs.
That would overwhelm the ¥20 billion in net profit Takata said this month it expected to earn in the current fiscal year, though it is possible those costs would be paid over several years, given the time that is expected to be required to complete such a vast recall.
Analysts said Takata had enough cash reserves and support from Japanese banks to stay in business, even if it absorbed more losses. But bankers were also said to be pressing Takata’s founding family and its reclusive scion, the chairman and chief executive, Shigehisa Takada, to mend relations with customers and forestall further action by the American authorities.