Four Japanese automakers, including Mazda, Honda, Toyota Motor Corp and Nissan Motor Co, are recalling 2.8 million vehicles sold around the world because airbags supplied by Takata Corp are at risk of catching fire or injuring passengers.
The move announced on Thursday is the largest recall ever for airbags made by Takata, the world’s second-largest supplier of airbags and seatbelts. Shares of Takata, which first learned of the issue in October 2011, tumbled almost 10 percent in Tokyo trading. The recall, also including vehicles from Honda Motor Co Ltd and Mazda Motor Corp, is the largest since Toyota pulled back more than 7 million vehicles in October to repair faulty power window switches.
The scale of the recent safety actions underscores the risk of huge global supply chain problems as automakers increasingly rely on a handful of suppliers for common or similar parts to cut costs, analysts have said. Toyota, Honda and Nissan said there were no reports of injuries or deaths because of the defective airbags, which affect more than 1.3 million vehicles in the United States.
Airbags are flexible fabric envelopes that inflate rapidly to cushion occupants in an accident. They were rolled out broadly in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, and are now required in most developed countries, with many vehicles offering multiple airbags.
However, U.S. requirements were changed in the late 1990s to lower the explosive force of airbag deployment after injuries caused by early generations of the technology.
In the current Takata recall, the airbag for the front passenger seat may not inflate correctly because of a manufacturing defect in the propellant used in the airbag inflator, the companies said. As a result, there is a risk of fires starting or of passengers being injured by metal fragments shooting up toward the windshield or down into the passenger foot well.
With this recall, the affected vehicles are ones sold in areas in the South. Two of Honda’s three recalls are specific to US states and territories with high absolute humidity, the company says. The states and territories include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.
Takata has been working with the National Highway Transit Safety Agency on the investigation, chief executive Shigehisa Takada says in a June 20 statement, but he stands by the company’s products’ quality. There had been six incidents that prompted the investigation, all in Florida and Puerto Rico, Mr. Takada says.
He further added, “We currently believe the high levels of absolute humidity in those states are important factors. As a result our engineers are analyzing the impact that humidity may have on the potential for an inflator malfunction, as well as other possible contributing factors.”