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U.S. Auto Regulator Seeks Nationwide Recall of Takata Air Bags


The U.S. auto safety regulator has told Japanese supplier Takata Corp and five automakers to expand nationwide a regional recall of potentially lethal air bags, increasing pressure on the industry to move faster in a growing scandal, reported Reuters.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also scolded Takata for what it called “an unwillingness to move forward” on a nationwide recall, and said the company needs to be open with the U.S. public about the risks of its air bags.

Takata and automakers have so far taken a targeted approach in recalling U.S. vehicles with air bags that can rupture upon deployment, shooting shrapnel into the car. Five fatalities, including four in the United States, have been linked to the air bags.

The U.S. regional recall has involved 4.1 million cars in hot and humid areas where the air bags may be prone to fail, including Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and parts of Texas along the Gulf of Mexico. Most of those cars are made by Honda Motor, Takata’s biggest client.

In a call with reporters on Tuesday, NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman declined to estimate how many more cars would be included in a nationwide recall.

Shares in Takata dropped by as much as 7.8 percent in Tokyo on Wednesday, and have now slid 64 percent this year to 5-1/2-year lows.

Takata has already set aside more than $750 million for recall-related costs, but Takayuki Atake, manager of credit research at SMBC Nikko Securities, warned a national recall would need more provisioning and raised the risk of a deeper credit rating downgrade than initially expected.

Japan Credit Rating Agency has put Takata’s single-A rating on negative watch. “However, risk of a (three-notch) downgrade to BBB would increase if the expanded recall leads to further erosion of shareholder equity and/or a negative impact on Takata’s capacity for generating profits and cash flow,” Atake wrote in a report.

Takata, NHTSA, Honda and Chrysler have been called to testify at a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Thursday, where Takata will be represented by Hiroshi Shimizu, a 36-year company veteran and senior vice president of global quality assurance.

MILLIONS MORE?

Around 16 million cars with Takata air bags have been recalled worldwide over the past six years, with more than 10 million of those in the United States.

NHTSA’s Friedman said the recall expansion was prompted by an August incident involving a 2007 Ford Mustang in North Carolina, outside the area of the regional recalls.

The agency ordered Ford, Mazda Motor, Honda, Chrysler and BMW to send notifications for replacement driver-side air bags to consumers quickly. “We will begin a process both with Takata and the automakers to force them to recall all affected” vehicles, Friedman said.

Ford, Honda, Mazda and Chrysler 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 fixing. BMW is already recalling air bags nationally.

Spokesman Alby Berman said Takata would cooperate with regulators and automakers if an expanded recall is required, but noted that “of almost 1,000 passenger and driver inflators from outside the high humidity areas that have been evaluated to date, none have ruptured.”

“Takata is concerned that a national recall could potentially divert replacement air bags from where they’re needed, putting lives at risk,” he said in a statement.

It’s unclear just how long it could take to replace so many air bags. 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.

Takata has said it would add two production lines at its Monclova, Mexico plant in January to make replacement air bag inflators. Workers there have told Reuters that a single line has a typical quota of around 200 inflators an hour, meaning it could take five months to make 1 million inflators working around the clock on two lines, five days a week.

NOT ENOUGH

Auto safety advocates and lawmakers said NHTSA’s latest move may still not capture the scope of the problem, is too late, and may not be enforceable.

Democratic Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal said they were pleased NHTSA recognized the “national scope” of the problem,” but said the call to replace driver-side air bags should be expanded to also include passenger air bags.

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 faulty parts, resulting in confusion for car owners receiving mixed messages.

Friedman criticized Takata for resisting when NHTSA this week called on it to issue a defect notification nationwide for air bags of a certain design. “Takata’s initial response was an unwillingness to move forward, and frankly, that is one of the reasons we are talking to you today, because I believe everyone needs to understand that Takata needs to act,” he said.

Asked about Friedman’s comment, Takata said: “We have been dealing sincerely with U.S. authorities and … will continue to do so, prioritizing customers’ safety.”

NHTSA also addressed lingering confusion over what exactly makes some air bags explode. It said it ordered Takata to provide under oath documents and information on the propellant used in newly designed air bag inflators, after Takata recently said it had changed the chemical mix of its inflators.

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Takata Senior VP to Testify Before U.S. Senate Committee


Representatives of Takata Corp, Chrysler Group Llc, Honda Motor Co Ltd and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will testify before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday to answer questions about the dangers posed by air bags supplied by Takata, reported Reuters.

The final witness list, provided by a Senate aide, includes Hiroshi Shimizu, senior vice president of global quality assurance for Takata, Scott Kunselman, senior vice president of vehicle safety and regulatory compliance for Chrysler Group, Rick Schostek, executive vice president of Honda North America, and David Friedman, deputy administrator for the NHTSA, the federal agency that oversees the auto industry.

Stephanie Erdman, a victim of the Takata air bag defect, will also testify.

Over the past six years, at least five deaths have been linked to air bags supplied by Japanese safety equipment maker Takata. It was found that the air bags could rupture upon deployment, spraying metal shards inside the car. More than 17 million cars have been recalled worldwide, including more than 11 million in the United States.

The hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will begin at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) on Thursday.

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U.S. Safety Regulators Probe Honda, Nissan Vehicles for Steering Issues


U.S. safety regulators have opened separate investigations into potential steering issues in an estimated 374,000 Honda Accord sedans and an estimated 17,000 Infiniti EX35 compact crossover vehicles, reported Reuters.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened a preliminary evaluation into the failure of electric power steering in certain 2013 Accords made by Honda Motor Co after receiving 24 complaints and reports of four low-speed crashes, according to documents filed online. It also is based on accident data submitted by Honda to the U.S. safety agency.

The sudden loss of power steering while driving can result in increased steering effort, according to the NHTSA documents. Just over half of the complaints indicated observing a power steering warning message as the failure occurred, and some said the condition was corrected by turning the vehicle off and restarting it.

A preliminary investigation is the first step in a process that can lead to a recall if regulators determine that a manufacturer needs to address a safety issue.

A Honda spokesman said on Tuesday the Japanese automaker is cooperating with the investigation and will continue its own internal review of the available information.

NHTSA also opened a preliminary evaluation into certain 2008 Infiniti EX35 crossover vehicles made by Nissan Motor Co after receiving two complaints of steering wheel shaft separations that could lead to loss of steering control, according to the NHTSA documents. In one complaint, the dealer found a failed steering shaft bearing.

Nissan said on Tuesday it was cooperating with NHTSA’s probe.

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Honda Heightens U.S. Response to Problems With Takata Air Bags


Honda Motor Co. said on Thursday that it is expanding its U.S. response to potentially explosive air bags made by Takata Corp. , adding a small number of vehicles in certain hot and humid regions and upgrading its previous action to an official recall, reported The WSJ.

Honda’s move comes after rivals Toyota Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. took similar action last month over Takata air bags that could send out metal fragments into the cabin of cars. The issue is linked to as many as four deaths.

Honda said it is officially recalling vehicles equipped with the potentially defective Takata air bags in 13 high-humidity states and U.S. territories—specifically, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Saipan, Guam, and American Samoa— and upgrading its previous action from a so-called safety-improvement campaign.

Honda also said it has determined the air bags contain a defect which if exposed to high-humidity conditions over long periods, can result in an “abnormal deployment.”

The specific number of vehicles under recall is undetermined at this point, the company said. The change to a U.S. recall status now requires Honda to abide by certain regulatory reporting requirements.

Honda said no injuries or fatalities have been confirmed for “the identified [vehicle] population related to this recall.”

The company’s move is in response to letters that the U.S. federal auto-safety regulator sent to 10 car makers and Takata in late October. In the letters, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requested that companies promptly recall vehicles in certain hot and humid regions, in some cases regions where they had already announced safety campaigns.

The NHTSA and Takata have said the air bags are at risk of exploding with too much force during a collision and spraying the driver and occupants with metal fragments.

In all, NHTSA has said 7.8 million vehicles made by 10 auto makers could be affected by the potentially defective Takata air bags and has urged customers to act immediately to notices sent by the manufacturers to make repairs. Of those vehicles, NHTSA has identified 5 million Honda and Acura cars.

The agency Takata have come under fire in recent weeks by lawmakers and safety advocates calling for a nationwide recall of all cars suspected to have the defective air bags.

Earlier this week, the NHTSA required Honda to produce documents pertaining to its eight recalls and service actions since 2008 involving Tataka air bags. Most of the cars involved are older-model vehicles. Honda says the repair involves replacing the air bag inflater on the passenger side.

The NHTSA since June has been investigating whether high humidity and temperature in certain regions had any impact on Takata air bags and inflaters.

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NHTSA Urges Owners of 4.7 Million GM and Foreign Cars to get Defective Airbags Fixed


DETROIT, MI – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is urging owners of some 4.7 million General Motors, Honda, Mazda, BMW and Nissan cars to have defective airbags made by Japanese auto parts company Takata Corp. replaced immediately. The full list of affected vehicles is below, reported Michigan Live.

NHTSA began a probe of the faulty airbags in June. According to the International Business Times, the airbags could rupture and spray pieces of metal into the driver and front-seat passenger in an accident.

NHTSA said it expects areas where there have already been regional recalls for the airbags, including Florida, Puerto Rico, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa, Virgin Islands and Hawaii, to be most affected.

Consumers who are uncertain whether their vehicle is affected can search their car’s VIN number at www.safecar.gov. Most of the affected cars are in the early-to-mid 2000s model years.

Based in Tokyo, Takata manufactures seat belts, airbags, steering wheels, interior trims, and child restraint systems at 56 plants in 20 countries. The company had $5.2 billion in annual sales in its most recent fiscal year, ended March 31, 2014.

The list of affected cars follows.

Affected Vehicles, by Manufacturer , Impacted by CY 2013 and 2014 Recalls Involving Takata Airbags:

General Motors: 133,221 total number potentially affected vehicles
2002 – 2003 Buick LeSabre
2002 – 2003 Buick Rendezvous
2002 – 2003 Cadillac DeVille
2002 – 2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer
2002 – 2003 Chevrolet Impala
2002 – 2003 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
2002 – 2003 Chevrolet Venture
2002 – 2003 GMC Envoy
2002 – 2003 GMC Envoy XL
2002 – 2003 Oldsmobile Aurora
2002 – 2003 Oldsmobile Bravada
2002 – 2003 Oldsmobile Silhouette
2002 – 2003 Pontiac Bonneville
2002 – 2003 Pontiac Montana

Toyota: 778,177 total number of vehicles potentially affected
2002 – 2004 Lexus SC
2003 – 2004 Toyota Corolla
2003 – 2004 Toyota Corolla Matrix
2002 – 2004 Toyota Sequoia
2003 – 2004 Toyota Tundra
2003 – 2004 Pontiac Vibe

Honda: 2,803,214 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2001 – 2007 Honda Accord (4 cyl)
2001 – 2002 Honda Accord (6 cyl)
2001 – 2005 Honda Civic
2002 – 2006 Honda CR-V
2003 – 2011 Honda Element
2002 – 2004 Honda Odyssey
2003 -2007 Honda Pilot
2006 Honda Ridgeline
2003 – 2006 Acura MDX
2002 -2003 Acura TL/CL

Nissan: 437,712 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2001 2003 Nissan Maxima
2001 – 2003 Nissan Pathfinder
2002 – 2003 Nissan Sentra
2001 – 2003 Infiniti I30/I35
2002 – 2003 Infiniti QX4
2003 Infiniti FX

Mazda: 18,050 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2003 – 2004 Mazda6
2004 Mazda RX-8

BMW: 573,935 total number of potentially affected vehicles
2000 – 2005 3 Series Sedan
2000 – 2006 3 Series Coupe
2000 – 2005 3 Series Sports Wagon
2000 – 2006 3 Series Convertible
2001 – 2006 M3 Coupe
2001 – 2006 M3 Convertible

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Honda Starts Audit of U.S. Injury-and-Death Reporting


Honda Motor Co. asked a third party to determine whether the automaker underreported fatality and injury claims to the U.S. government, which is investigating air-bag failures with potentially deadly defects, reported Bloomberg.

The third-party audit began in September and Honda will soon share its findings with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Tokyo-based company said in an e-mailed statement. Honda disclosed the audit after The Center for Auto Safety, a watchdog group, said the company didn’t report at least two injury-and-death incidents to NHTSA and called for the U.S. Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation.

Honda said it excluded verbal claims of fatalities and injuries in reports to NHTSA until last month, a practice it says accounted substantially for the fewer reported incidents compared with other automakers. The Center for Auto Safety said Honda’s failure to share the information hampered the U.S. government’s oversight and efforts to spot auto-defect patterns.

“The damage to their reputation could be very big,” Seiji Sugiura, an auto analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Center, said by phone. Honda “should take responsible action, especially in the U.S., because it’s their most important market.”

The issues being raised center on Takata Corp. – a major supplier of air-bag inflators to Honda, Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. – and how the car companies have responded to defects with the components. Honda is the biggest customer of Tokyo-based Takata and has said it’s called back 6 million vehicles for problems with air bags in nine recalls since 2008.

NHTSA Investigating

Regulators are in contact with Honda over its early-warning reporting to determine compliance, Karen Aldana, a spokeswoman for NHTSA, said in a statement. NHTSA has started an aggressive investigation into Takata air-bag failures and urged automakers to immediately recall vehicles with the highest risk.

NHTSA “will take appropriate action, including expanding the scope of the recall, if warranted,” Aldana said.

Honda said it has provided NHTSA detailed information relating to all known ruptures of Takata air-bag inflators. The company also said that current law does not require manufacturers to report verbal death-and-injury claims.

The company’s shares fell 3.5 percent as of 1:05 p.m. in Tokyo trading, while the Nikkei 225 Stock Average declined 1.9 percent.

Honda failed to notify NHTSA of several air-bag incidents that led to deaths and lawsuits, the Center for Auto Safety said in its letter yesterday to David Friedman, the agency’s deputy administrator. The Washington-based group cited a 2009 fatality and an August 2013 incident resulting in serious injury that weren’t included in Honda’s early warning reports.

Warning Reports

Automakers are required under a 2000 law to file quarterly reports to NHTSA about fatalities, injuries, lawsuits, warranty claims and customer complaints. The safety agency is supposed to analyze Early Warning Reports to spot trends suggestive of safety defects as soon as possible.

“The whole purpose is to get to major defects quicker,” Clarence Ditlow, executive director for the Center for Auto Safety, said yesterday in an interview. “You can’t protect the public if a company doesn’t turn over EWR reports.”

General Motors Co. (GM) reported 1,716 early warning injury-and-death claims to NHTSA last year, while Toyota logged 1,774, according to Ditlow’s group. Honda during that same period reported 28, the center said. In the first quarter of 2014, GM reported 505, Toyota 377 and Honda six, it said.

“It is our understanding that some manufacturers choose to include these types of verbal claims, and that these constitute the majority of the injury-and-death claims that they report to the NHTSA,” Honda’s U.S. unit said in the e-mailed statement. “We believe this practice accounts for the vast majority of the difference between the total number of injury-and-death claims reported by Honda compared to certain other manufacturers.”

Senators’ Letter

Democratic U.S. Senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut wrote to NHTSA yesterday expressing alarm over the agency’s use of limited “regional” recalls to address defects like the Takata air bags.

Noting the allegations by the Center for Auto Safety against Honda, Markey and Blumenthal asked NHTSA for additional information about how the agency ensures compliance with reporting requirements.

“We are concerned that NHTSA has not made real efforts to determine whether automakers have complied with this requirement to alert the public to potentially deadly defects,” they said in a statement.

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