Faulty Air Bag Part Prompts Toyota Recall

International New York Times

June 13, 2014

As a safety problem widens at one of the world's largest auto suppliers, 2.3 million Toyota vehicles are being recalled worldwide because a defective air bag component made by Takata Corp. could injure passengers.

And the problem could grow worse as more automakers are forced to recall millions of other vehicles.

Soon after Toyota's announcement, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States said it was opening an investigation into the other automakers that used parts made by Takata to see if those companies' vehicles should be recalled, too.

The recall Wednesday, which includes 766,000 vehicles in the United States, is the second vehicle recall that Toyota has made because a defective inflator for the passenger-side air bag could crack, possibly sending metal fragments into the compartment or causing ''thermal damage'' to the instrument panel.

The first recall for the problem came in April 2013, when Toyota said that 170,000 cars in the United States had the defective component but that all of the vehicles needed to be inspected to find the faulty ones. Over all, about 3.3 million vehicles worldwide were involved in that recall, including about 1.7 million Toyotas, 1.1 million Hondas, 480,000 Nissans and 20,000 Mazdas.

But Takata failed to keep adequate quality-control records, making it difficult to identify vehicles with potentially defective air bags. Toyota will now replace the part in all of them. It said it was not aware of any injuries or deaths associated with the defect.

Takata has informed other automakers of possible defects in their air bags, which were made over a decade ago at a plant in Mexico, but the decision on whether to recall the vehicles is up to those automakers, a company spokesman, Toyohiro Hishikawa, said by telephone early Thursday in Tokyo.

The recall Wednesday is only the latest in a string of troubles for Takata.

In 1996, seven Japanese automakers, together with General Motors and Chrysler, recalled 8.8 million vehicles in the United States because of concerns that Takata-made buckles could jam or fail to latch. That recall was then the largest in American automotive history.

American regulators said at the time that at least 90 injuries but no deaths had been linked to the belts. Japanese government and industry officials initially argued that American drivers might be having trouble with their seatbelts because they kept their vehicles too dirty. Takata, though, eventually settled numerous lawsuits over the issue.

Takata's recall troubles did not stop its plans to expand overseas. Unlike many of its peers, Takata, which is based in Tokyo, is not affiliated with any of Japan's automakers, which has allowed it to pursue contracts with a wide range of manufacturers.

But that has also meant that when its products are found to be defective, the recalls can involve numerous automakers.

Takata's tactics in gaining market share have also come under scrutiny.

In October 2013, Takata agreed to pay a $71.3 million fine to settle antitrust allegations brought against it by the United States Justice Department. About a month earlier, a Takata official in the United States agreed to serve 14 months in prison and pay a $20,000 fine on a felony price-fixing charge that involved seatbelts sold to Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Nissan and Subaru.

The vehicles affected by the recall Wednesday are the 2003-4 Toyota Corolla, Matrix and Tundra, the 2002-4 Sequoia sport utility vehicle and the 2002-4 Lexus SC 430 luxury coupe.

Millions of other vehicles may also be affected. Honda is investigating the ''potential implications'' for its vehicles, Chris Martin, a spokesman for the automaker, wrote in an email. Nissan also said it was investigating the issue. A Mazda spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

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