Mass Vehicle Recalls due to Defective Air Bag Explosions

iStock_000004528435MediumLast month Japan’s Takata Corp., the second-largest auto-safety parts manufacturer in the world, caused a recall of 2.9 million vehicles around the world due to faulty air bags. The Takata air bags, made between 2000 and 2002, were manufactured incorrectly and are at risk for exploding unexpectedly and shooting shrapnel at the car’s occupants. Over the last 5 years, Takata airbags have caused approximately 10.5 million vehicle recalls.

The number of recalled vehicles is likely to increase. Takata said it is ready to replace more air bags made between 2000 and 2007 that were distributed to Honda, Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan, Mazda Motor Corp., BMW, and Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. The airbag crisis came on the heels of another automaker safety issue earlier in the year, when General Motors faced scrutiny about it’s faulty ignition switches, a default which was linked to at least 13 deaths.

In April and May of last year, Takata’s customers recalled over 4 million vehicles due to defective air bag inflators. The recall cost Takata $300 million and constituted the largest ever recall for defective air bags. Takata and Honda attribute the defect to how the explosive material used to inflate airbags was handled while it was processed in the U.S. and Mexico in 2000 and 2002. The 2013 recalls, which involved Honda as well as 4 mother car makers, was related to a problem that surfaced as early as 2007. The recalls were linked to 2 deaths.

However, a few weeks after the 2013 recalls a car accident in western Japan raised concern about whether the recalls were extensive enough. The accident involved a 10-year-old Honda Fit, a model which had not been part of the earlier recalls. There were no injuries in the accident, but safety investigators found the metal ejected by the air bag to be so hot that it set fire to the instrument panel and glove compartment. The accident caused Honda to be concerned that there were more defective vehicle parts in circulation than previously thought. The company noted that Honda engineers spent 6 months after the accident trying to recreate the explosion.

Honda told safety regulators in Japan that they would not be issuing another recall. Shortly after, in June of this year, Toyota recalled another 650,000 cars in Japan because of the Takata air bags, as well as 1.6 million vehicles. Takata spokesman Toyohiro Hishikawa stated that the defect was due to a problem with the record keeping in their processing plant in Monclava, Mexico.

Toyota has decided to turn off air bags in Japan for customers with recalled vehicles, to prevent injuries to customers in the event the dangerous and unexpected airbag were to explode. Then in June of 2014, Honda also expanded its recall to include the 2003 Honda Fit, as well as 2.03 million vehicles globally due to the defective air bags, and will also be turning off air bags in Japan. Nissan and Mazda are also offering to turn off air bags in Japan, as well as recalling 755,000 and 159,807 vehicles respectively.

“We will aim to further strengthen our quality control system and work united as a company to prevent problems from happening again,” said Takata CEO Shigehisa Takada and Chief Operating Officer Stefan Stocker.


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