Up to 34 million vehicles in US due for recall over airbags

Airbag maker Takata agrees to mount what could be biggest every car recall

Takata, the Japanese car component manufacturer plagued by safety problems with its airbags, on Tuesday agreed with US regulators to mount what could be the biggest ever auto recall, covering up to 34 million vehicles. It brings to 53 million the number of vehicles recalled worldwide over the issue since 2008.

There are no indications as yet as to whether additional cars in Ireland or Europe may be recalled after this latest move by US authorities. Thousands of Irish cars have already been recalled over the last two years over the problem. Last week Honda confirmed it was going to have to replace 9,200 airbags on Irish cars, while Toyota recalled 27,000 Irish cars and Nissan recalled 15,500 here.

A spokesman for Toyota Ireland said this morning: “As this is a US Department of Transportation’s announcement it would appear to be just for the US market only but affecting multiple brand given the numbers. We have no indication at present that it will extend to Europe or Ireland.”

Yesterday's US agreement comes just under three months after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started levying daily fines on Takata for failing to co-operate fully with its investigation of the faults. The defective airbags can rupture when deploying, scattering shrapnel into the face of the driver or passenger. The fault has been linked to six deaths worldwide, including at least four in the US.


Honda used the defective airbags more than any other manufacturer in the US. But the recall also includes vehicles from 11 other manufacturers, including Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Toyota and BMW.

A Honda spokesman had no immediate comment on how the replacement air bag inflators will be produced for such a large number of vehicles. Industry officials have turned to

Takata’s rivals for help in obtaining replacement parts. Takada, whose family founded the supplier, said analysis of the problem “was not within the scope of testing specifications” set by its automaker customers. “While it’s taken far too long,

Takata finally seems to be owning up to the air bag crisis that has plagued vehicles of all shapes and sizes,” said Kelley Blue Book analyst Akshay Anand. “A recall of this size is unprecedented in any industry.” U.S. lawmakers, who had pushed for a broader recall, welcomed the news. “Folks shouldn’t have to drive around wondering if their air bag is going to explode in their face,” Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson said. “Let’s hope Takata’s admissions today tell us the whole story.”

Takata was first alerted to an airbag explosion in 2004 but concluded the incident was not evidence of a wider problem. The latest recall marks a substantial widening from an initial recall of 7.8 million vehicles registered in Florida, the Texas coast and other high-humidity areas. Nearly all the dangerous incidents have occurred in such areas.

Anthony Foxx, the US transport secretary, said the agreement with Takata was "a major step forward for public safety".

“The Department of Transportation is taking the proactive steps necessary to ensure that defective inflators are replaced with safe ones as quickly as possible, and that the highest risks are addressed first,” Mr Foxx said. “We will not stop our work until every air bag is replaced.”

Shigehisa Takada, Takata’s chief executive, said the company was pleased to have reached agreement with the NHTSA and that it presented a “clear path forward to advancing safety and restoring the trust of automakers and the driving public”.

The company said that, despite significant research into the nature of the defect, the airbag problem was a “complex issue which takes time to fully evaluate”. The company was consequently dividing up the recalled vehicles into different groups.

For one group, there will be a US-wide recall starting with the oldest vehicles first and focusing, for driver’s side bags, first on vehicles sold in the most humid states and US territories or ever registered in them. For the second group of vehicles, the recall would initially cover only vehicles sold in, or ever registered in, the most humid areas. But that recall could be expanded if further research suggested the problem could also affect vehicles kept in less humid places.

The substantial widening of the recall increases the costs for Takata from the problems with the airbags, which have also forced the recall of tens of millions of vehicles elsewhere in the world.

The agreement with Takata is also the latest sign of the NHTSA’s efforts to act far more aggressively over vehicle faults after the organisation underestimated for years faults with ignition switches in some General Motors vehicles. News of the agreement comes the day after the body announced a rare public hearing into whether Fiat Chrysler has done enough to ensure vehicle owners bring cars covered by 20 separate recalls in for repairs.

- Financial Times/ Reuters

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer is Motoring Editor, Innovation Editor and an Assistant Business Editor at The Irish Times