Takata's recall of 34 million cars with faulty air bags is biggest in US automotive history

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 May, 2015, 8:54am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 May, 2015, 8:54am

Japanese air bag manufacturer Takata Corp is doubling a recall of potentially deadly air bags to nearly 34 million vehicles, creating the largest automotive recall in American history, US safety regulators said.

The recall involves passenger and driver-side air bag inflators in vehicles made by 11 automakers, the US Department of Transportation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Takata said on Tuesday. It expands on the 16.6 million vehicles called back for repairs for the same issue in previous regional and national recalls, and boosts the number of vehicles affected globally since 2008 to more than 53 million.

Regulators on Tuesday linked six deaths worldwide to defective Takata air bags which exploded with too much force and sent shrapnel into the vehicles.

Takata Chief Executive Shigehisa Takada said in a statement: “We are pleased to have reached this agreement with NHTSA, which represents a clear path forward.”

The company declined to say whether markets outside the United States would be affected.

It was only under pressure from US regulators that Takata agreed to the expanded recall. It had previously resisted expanding the recalls, saying the defect cited by automakers was not “officially recognised”.

Toyota, Nissan and Honda had all expanded their Takata recalls over the past week.

The automakers have said they decided to proceed with their recalls after finding some Takata air bag inflators were not sealed properly, allowing moisture to seep in to the propellant casing. Moisture damages the propellant and can lead to an inflator exploding with too much force, shooting shrapnel inside the vehicle.

The six deaths linked to the defective air bags have all occurred in cars made by Honda, which has borne the brunt of the Takata recalls to date.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said NHTSA also issued a consent order to Takata, requiring the supplier to co-operate in the safety agency’s ongoing probe as well as any oversight.

NHTSA also said it will “organise and prioritise the replacement of defective Takata inflators” under its legal authority. This is the first time the safety agency has used this power since 2000, when Congress granted it under the TREAD Act.

“We will not stop our work until every air bag is replaced,” Foxx said.

NHTSA had slapped Takata in February with a $14,000 per-day fine for failing to fully cooperate with a probe, but Rosekind said that was suspended for now.

Takata’s recall will cost the supplier and its automaker customers an estimated US$4 billion to US$5 billion, said Scott Upham, president of Valient Market Research, which tracks the air bag industry.

Takata faces multiple class actions in the United States and Canada as well as a U.S. criminal investigation and a regulatory probe. Tuesday’s announcement will “tremendously bolster our claims,” said Peter Prieto of the law firm Podhurst Orseck, who leads the group of plaintiffs’ lawyers appointed to oversee the US cases.