Car industry struggles to solve air bag explosions despite mass recalls

Mon Jun 23, 2014 4:10am EDT
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By Yoko Kubota and Ben Klayman

TOKYO/DETROIT (Reuters) - A year ago, Japan's Takata Corp, the world's second-largest maker of auto safety parts, believed it had finally contained a crisis more than a decade in the making.

It was wrong.

Japanese car makers including Honda Motor Co and Nissan Motor Co on Monday recalled 2.9 million vehicles globally over Takata air bags that are at risk of exploding and shooting shrapnel at passengers and drivers. That takes the tally of Takata air bag recalls over the past five years to some 10.5 million vehicles.

Those vehicles carry air bags made between 2000-02 when, Takata says, it botched production of air bag inflators and lost related records.

And that total is likely to increase further after Takata said it is willing to replace more air bag inflators made between 2000-07 that it supplied to Honda, Toyota Motor Corp, Nissan, Mazda Motor Corp, BMW, Chrysler and Ford Motor Co for vehicles sold in the United States.

The deepening crisis comes at a time when General Motors is under scrutiny over why it took more than a decade to discover a faulty ignition switch linked to at least 13 deaths. As automakers promote over-the-horizon breakthroughs like self-driving cars, the industry's mass safety-related recalls underline how much can still go wrong with some of the cheapest, most established technologies.

Takata has asked multiple car makers to cooperate on investigations, and those companies could yet make follow-up announcements, said a person knowledgeable about the matter who declined to be named.

In April and May 2013, Takata's customers, led by Honda and Toyota, recalled more than 4 million vehicles due to the risk that defective air bag inflators could blow apart and shoot metal shards into vehicles in the event of an accident. Those 2013 recalls, which ranked as the largest ever for an air bag defect, contributed to a $300 million charge for Takata.   Continued...

A logo of Takata Corp is seen through a car window outside the company's headquarter building in Tokyo April 12, 2013. REUTERS/Yuya Shino