TOKYO -- Takata Corp., the airbag maker behind the automotive industry's biggest safety recall, is said to be moving forward with an auction of the company as private equity firms and suppliers line up offers.
Suitors include Carlyle Group, which is working with Chinese-owned airbag manufacturer Key Safety Systems; Daicel, a Japanese manufacturer of airbag inflators that's jointly bidding with Bain Capital; and KKR & Co., according to people familiar with the matter.
Bidders for Takata have been asked to submit their proposals by early this week, and Takata aims to shortlist two to three candidates by October, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is confidential.
The sale will be closely scrutinized by the world's largest automakers, which are likely to spend the next several years recalling airbag inflators that can potentially rupture and shoot metal fragments at vehicle occupants.
Takata set up a committee in February that's been negotiating with its customers, led by Honda Motor, on the costs related to replacing the defective parts linked to as many as 15 deaths worldwide.
"It may take time from now on given the need to reach agreement with various stakeholders," said Shintaro Niimura, a credit analyst at Nomura Securities Co. "The Japanese carmakers, foreign carmakers, all have different interests."
Some of the bidders are considering the possibility of some form of bankruptcy proceedings for Takata to mitigate the liabilities, said the people. A person with knowledge of the restructuring process said in May that Takata would seek to avoid bankruptcy and instead look for buyers that could take a controlling stake and carry the company through its crisis. Takata is working with Lazard Ltd.
Representatives at Takata, Lazard, Carlyle, Bain Capital and KKR declined to comment. Daicel said it couldn't immediately comment. Calls to Key Safety System outside of regular business hours weren't answered.
While KKR plans to make a bid on its own, it hasn't ruled out working with a partner, said one of the people.
Almost 70 million Takata airbag inflators are scheduled for replacement between now and 2019, the largest and most complex auto-safety recall in U.S. history.
On Friday, General Motors asked U.S. safety regulators to delay by a year the mandatory recall of almost 1 million vehicles with airbags made by Takata, saying the designated models have not been shown to carry the same risk as others linked to deaths and injuries.
Takata has a market value of $334 million and the stock has plunged 87 percent since January 2014. The company faces billions in potential recall costs should automakers not agree to forgive the debts.
Daicel already supplies replacement airbag inflators to Takata and has existing relationships with Toyota Motor, Honda and Nissan Motor. Key Safety Systems, based in Sterling Heights, Michigan, was acquired this year by China's Ningbo Joyson Electronic.
Ningbo Joyson may find it hard to win the bid for Takata as Japanese companies have a strong sense of national pride for their manufacturing standards, according to Cui Dongshu, secretary general of the China Passenger Car Association.
Daicel may have an edge over Ningbo Joyson, according to Yale Zhang, a managing director at researcher Autoforesight Shanghai.
"Japanese companies are more willing to accept Japanese bidders," Zhang said. "Daicel's inflators will be a good supplement to Takata, given that the airbag scandal partly resulted from Takata's attempts to turn to cheaper suppliers to save costs."