Japan’s three big carmakers are expanding recalls to replace potentially faulty airbags made by Takata, deepening a safety crisis that will now affect more than 30m vehicles worldwide.
Toyota and Nissan said on Wednesday they will collectively recall another 6.6m vehicles globally. Honda, the carmaker most affected by the airbag problems, with more than 14m vehicles recalled so far, said it was considering taking similar action to its rivals.
Carmakers are investigating the cause of incidents in which some Takata airbags have exploded when deploying, scattering shrapnel inside the car — the problems are linked to at least six deaths in the US and Malaysia.
Recalls of vehicles with potentially faulty airbags began in 2008, but the bulk of these actions took place over the past two years, and Takata, the Tokyo-based manufacturer, has been strongly criticised by US regulators for its response to the safety crisis.
Takata declined to comment on the expanded recalls, saying the decisions were made by the carmakers.
Toyota said it will expand its recalls to include 35 car models produced between 2003 to 2007.
The latest recall affects 5m vehicles, including 1.4m in Japan and 1.3m in Europe, and Toyota will replace the front passenger side and front driver side airbag inflators with new equipment.
“Among the parts collected from the Japanese market, certain types of airbag inflators were found to have a potential for moisture intrusion over time,” Toyota said.
Toyota said it did not know whether there was a relationship between moisture getting into the airbag and the possibility of the inflator rupturing.
Takata has previously admitted that, in the event of an accident, the front passenger side airbag inflators can rupture and spray metal shrapnel.
The inflators are believed to absorb too much moisture in humid conditions, causing tablets inside to disintegrate and triggering uneven deployment of the airbags.
Experts say one cause of the problems may be the chemical propellant used in inflators — ammonium nitrate.
In its latest recall, Nissan said on Tuesday that its dealers will test the airbag inflators and replace them if necessary on 1.6m vehicles made between 2004 and 2007.
A Japanese transport ministry official said the expanded recalls were a precautionary measure. Both companies said no accidents or injuries had been reported.
The recalls come as Takata seeks to draw a line under the scandal and return to profitability. The company’s president, Stefan Stocker, stood down in December over his handling of the crisis.
For the year to March 2016, the company is expecting a net profit of Y20bn ($167m), compared with a loss of Y29.56bn in the previous 12 months.
But company officials said the forecast does not take into account further recall-related costs which are difficult to estimate because of ongoing regulatory probes and lawsuits. Takata also said it did not know the cost of the latest expanded recalls by Toyota and Nissan.
In February, US regulators warned they would impose a daily fine of $14,000 on Takata over its failure to co-operate fully with investigations into product faults — although the Japanese company said it was assisting watchdogs with their inquiries.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration levied daily fines against General Motors at one point last year when it was dissatisfied with the carmaker’s response to ignition switch problems that have been linked to deaths.
Additional reporting by Nobuko Juji
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