TOKYO (Reuters) - Bidders for Japan's Takata Corp will meet this month with the carmakers key to its survival to consider options, including a $3 billion bid, at a gathering that could determine the future of the air-bag maker, people familiar with the matter said.
Takata is seeking a financial investor to help pay for huge liabilities from the world's biggest auto recall, with defective air-bag inflators linked to at least 15 deaths globally.
The meetings of the five bidding groups and carmakers, who are Takata creditors and customers, will take place late this month in New York, four people involved or briefed on the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.
The bid from Japanese inflator maker Daicel Corp and U.S. buyout firm Bain Capital, for more than 300 billion yen ($2.9 billion), is backed by Takata's steering committee of Japan-based lawyers and consultants, said a person involved in the process and one who was briefed on the matter.
That is the highest bid for Takata, the source briefed on the matter said. Automakers asked to meet directly with bidders, the sources said, as differences over whether to put Takata through bankruptcy complicate the discussions. Its $1.1 billion in capital is dwarfed by recall liabilities of some $10 billion, according to industry estimates, let alone potential legal liabilities.
The tussle over bankruptcy is likely to delay by months earlier hopes to name a rescuer this month and complete Takata's restructuring plans this year, sources told Reuters last month.
Bidders include Sweden's Autoliv, a global rival for Takata in air bags, as well as a partnership between U.S. parts supplier Key Safety Systems and private equity firm Carlyle Group, sources have said.
All five bidders last month presented restructuring plans that would force the air-bag maker to file for bankruptcy protection, people with knowledge of the process have told Reuters.
Takata's share price, which has collapsed 89 percent since early 2014 as the recall crisis escalated, fell 7.5 percent on Tuesday on a report that the company is weighing bankruptcy in the United States, where most of the recalls, deaths and injuries linked to Takata's defective air bags have occurred.
Some automaker customers oppose bankruptcy because they would have to swallow significant losses after shouldering the bulk of recalls costs, sources have said. Automakers are leaning towards Autoliv, the world's largest supplier of air bags, which has ramped up its production capacity of air-bag inflators to provide replacements parts as Takata has struggled to keep up, said a source briefed on the matter.
Toyota Motor Corp, Honda Motor Co, Nissan Motor Co and Volkswagen will attend the meetings, the sources said.
Also attending will be the steering committee, which is overseeing Takata's restructuring discussions, and investment bank Lazard Ltd, which is advising Takata on the bidding, they said.
Daicel, Bain, Autoliv, KSS and Carlyle declined to comment on matters related to Takata. A spokeswoman for Takata and Lazard declined to comment.
A spokesman for Honda declined to comment, while a Toyota spokesman reiterated the company's position that it was not in a position to comment on Takata's financial situation. Nissan and Volkswagen were not immediately available for comment.
Bidders are trying to come up with a plan which will enable Takata to continue operating by drawing a line under its liabilities while also continuing to supply parts to the industry into the future.
Automakers around the world have been recalling vehicles containing more than 100 million Takata inflators after it was discovered that a chemical compound in their propellant can explode violently, especially in vehicles with years of exposure to hot, humid weather.
Increasing recalls and growing liabilities have increased financial pressures on the company which has been run by the founding Takada family since it was founded as a textile maker in 1933.
The parts maker has booked an annual loss in three of the past four years and been shedding assets to raise funds.
Writing by Naomi Tajitsu; Additional reporting by Junko Fujita; Editing by William Mallard and Louise Heavens