Takata Corp. has expanded a recall of defective air bags to about 34 million vehicles on U.S. roads, leaving auto makers in Canada scrambling to determine whether more vehicles in this country should be recalled.
Car companies in Canada had previously recalled some vehicles with Takata air bags, but U.S. recalls had been focused previously on high humidity areas. It was believed that high humidity caused the air-bag propellant to degrade, leading to air-bag ruptures and six deaths worldwide,
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Tuesday it reached an agreement with Takata that will lead to national recalls in the United States, doubling the number of vehicles that have been recalled and making the recall the largest yet.
BMW Canada Inc., FCA Canada Inc. (Chrysler) and Nissan Canada Inc. are among the auto makers in Canada that have recalled vehicles. Nissan expanded previous recalls last week to add 62,538 vehicles in Canada. Pathfinder, Sentra and X-Trail models built between January, 2004, and March, 2007, were added.
Officials from the Canadian units of several auto makers said they were assessing the NHTSA agreement with Takata to determine whether vehicles sold in Canada but not yet recalled are affected.
"There have been no reports of accidents or abnormal deployments in Mazda models that use this type of airbags," Chuck Reimer, a spokesman for Mazda Canada Inc. said in an e-mail.
More than a dozen class-action lawsuits have been launched in Canada as a result of the air bag situation.
The U.S. regulator said it has been unable to find a root cause of the problem although testing appears to point to moisture penetrating the air-bag inflators as a likely cause.
A recall of 33.6 million U.S. vehicles will cost Takata and its auto-maker customers an estimated $4-billion (U.S.) to $5-billion, said Scott Upham, president of Valient Market Research, which tracks the air-bag industry.
Industry officials have turned to Takata's rivals for help in obtaining replacement parts.
"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."
Shigehisa Takada, chief executive officer of the air-bag manufacturer founded and still controlled by his family, said analysis of the problem "was not within the scope of testing specifications" set by its auto-maker customers.
The number of vehicles with potentially defective Takata air bags recalled globally since 2008 has risen to around 36 million following recalls over the past week by Japan's Toyota Motor Corp,. Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd.
The auto makers have said that they decided to proceed with their recalls after finding some Takata air-bag inflators were not sealed properly, allowing moisture to seep into the propellant casing. Moisture damages the propellant and can lead to an inflator exploding with too much force, shooting shrapnel inside the vehicle.
Six deaths have been linked to the defective air bags, all in cars made by Honda, which has borne the brunt of the Takata recalls to date, and which gave a disappointing profit forecast last month due to higher costs related to quality fixes.
In addition to the class action lawsuits in Canadian and U.S. courts, Takata faces a U.S. criminal investigation and a regulatory probe.