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Air bag maker Takata hires public relations firm Sard Verbinnen

Takata Corp's company plate is seen at an entrance of the building where Takata Corp headquarters is located at in Tokyo December 9, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

DETROIT (Reuters) - Takata Corp (7312.T) said on Tuesday it has hired public relations firm Sard Verbinnen & Co, as the company contends with the fallout from its recall crisis for potentially defective air bag inflators that can spray vehicle occupants with metal shrapnel.

The Japanese company said in a statement that it hired Sard Verbinnen last week.

More than 20 million vehicles have been recalled globally by automakers since 2008 for defective Takata inflators, which have been linked to five deaths. Honda Motor Co <7267.T>, Takata's biggest customer, alone has recalled 13.4 million cars, primarily in the United States.

Sard Verbinnen's hiring puts a more professional public relations firm in place to handle communications for the company, but raises the question whether Chief Executive Shigehisa Takada will speak on the issue publicly, said Scott Upham, president of Valient Market Research, which tracks the air bag industry.

Takada, the 48-year-old, third-generation head of the company, apologized to shareholders at Takata's annual meeting in late June, which was closed to media, but has otherwise not been seen in public.

Founded in 1992, Sard Verbinnen is a financial communications firm with offices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and London. It has worked on some of the biggest mergers and acquisitions in the United States, including the $8.7 billion leveraged buyout of PetSmart Inc (PETM.O) announced this week. It also has represented high-profile individuals such as the former Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) banker Fabrice Tourre, who was accused of defrauding mortgage investors.

Takata spokesman Alby Berman, 69, said he is retiring at the end of December, but will remain as a consultant to the Japanese supplier.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Additional reporting by Gregory Roumeliotis in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)