TOKYO, Nov 19:
Honda Motor Co today said it had not received a notice from US safety regulators about expanding nationwide a previous region-specific recall of flawed airbags supplied by Takata Corp.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Agency’s (NHTSA) call for a recall expansion was prompted by an August incident in North Carolina, outside the area previously included in a recall involving hot and humid regions.
“Honda will continue to cooperate with NHTSA in its industry-wide effort to investigate abnormal airbag inflator deployments, including, as warranted by the developing investigation, the possibility of expanding the recalls affecting our vehicles,” Honda said.
Yesterday, the NHTSA had called on Japanese supplier Takata and five automakers to expand nationwide a regional recall of potentially deadly airbags, increasing pressure on the industry to act more swiftly in the growing scandal.
Ford, Honda, Mazda and Chrysler all said they would continue to cooperate with NHTSA and plan to evaluate their call for a national recall. But each stopped short of saying they would expand beyond the current set of cars they are repairing. BMW is already recalling airbags nationally.
The authority also scolded Takata for what it called “an unwillingness to move forward” on a nationwide recall and said Takata needed to be frank with the American public about the risks of its airbags.
Auto safety advocates and lawmakers immediately criticised NHTSA’s latest move. They said it still may not capture the scope of the problem, is coming too late and is not an enforceable mandate.
Takata and automakers so far have taken a targeted approach in recalling US vehicles with airbags that can potentially rupture upon deployment, shooting metal shards inside the car.
Five fatalities, four in the US and one in Malaysia, have been linked to the airbags.
The US regional recall involved 4.1 million cars in hot and humid areas where the airbags could be prone to fail, including Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and parts of Texas along the Gulf of Mexico.
NHTSA deputy administrator David Friedman said yesterday that the call to expand the recall was prompted by an August incident involving a 2007 Ford Mustang in North Carolina, outside the area previously included in the regional recall of the airbags.
The agency ordered Ford Motor Company, Mazda Motor Co, Honda Motor Co, Chrysler Group LLC and BMW to send notifications for replacement driver’s-side airbags to consumers quickly.
“We will begin a process both with Takata and the automakers to force them to recall all affected” vehicles, Friedman said.
Over the past six years, roughly 16 million cars with Takata airbags have been recalled worldwide. That includes more than 10 million in the US, of which the regional recall is a part.
Friedman declined to estimate how many more cars would be included in the nationwide recall of driver’s side airbags.
It is also unclear whether there are enough parts available to cover the expansion in a timely manner. NHTSA said it is pressuring Takata to ramp up production of replacement parts and has said it will explore using other suppliers to help with production if needed.
Democratic Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal said they were pleased NHTSA had recognised the “national scope of this problem” but said yesterday’s call to replace driver’s-side airbags should be expanded to include passenger airbags.
They also said the agency should revisit the policy that allows recalls to be regional rather than national.
NHTSA agreed in June to allow automakers to do a regional recall and use their discretion in deciding how and when to notify customers and replace the faulty parts, resulting in confusion for car owners receiving mixed messages.
Safety advocate Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, said NHTSA’s action yesterday is coming too late.
“They never should have accepted in June of 2014 anything less than a national recall.”
Friedman yesterday also directed harsh criticism at Takata, saying the company was resistant when NHTSA this week called on it to issue a defect notification nationwide for airbags of a certain design.
“Takata’s initial response was an unwillingness to move forward, and frankly, that is one of the reasons that we are talking to all of you today, because I believe that everyone needs to understand that Takata needs to act.”
The regulator also addressed lingering confusion over what exactly makes some airbags explode.
NHTSA said yesterday it had ordered Takata to provide under oath documents and other information on the propellant used in newly designed airbag inflators, after Takata recently said it had changed the chemical mix of its inflators.
The regulator also said it needed more information on the steps Takata and automakers are taking to “control and mitigate” the risks associated with the defective inflators.
“The agency is demanding this information to compel Takata and the affected industry to be frank with not only NHTSA, but the American public,” NHTSA said in a statement.