Faulty airbags now grow into a global worry for Japan’s Takata

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Sibu (malaysia) | Updated: November 20, 2014 1:54:30 AM

Eleven carmakers, including Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Ford, Chrysler and BMW, have recalled more than 14 million cars worldwide...

What began as a largely American problem for Takata is taking on ever-wider proportions, confronting drivers and regulators in multiple countries with differing legal systems and attitudes toward automobile safety.

Eleven carmakers, including Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Ford, Chrysler and BMW, have recalled more than 14 million cars worldwide, including more than 11 million in the US, to fix a defect in airbags made by the Takata Corporation. Some have ruptured, sending metal fragments into the car. At least four deaths and more than 30 injuries have been strongly linked to the problem .

Faulty inflaters, made at North American plants, also ended up in overseas cars. In the US, the urgency over the faulty airbags, which has prompted 14.3 million recalls globally, has risen along with the death toll and the injuries. On Tuesday, federal regulators urged automakers to recall cars nationwide that contain Takata airbags.

Takata is expected to face scrutiny on Thursday over the issue at a Senate hearing on auto safety. Hiroshi Shimizu, the company’s senior vice-president for quality assurance in Japan, is set to testify before lawmakers, along with auto executives and safety regulators.

“The problem is that nobody knows how far it’s going to go — how many millions more vehicles,” said Koji Endo, an expert on the Japanese automobile industry at Advanced Research Japan.

The fallout has been limited on Takata’s home turf in Japan. A few incidents of ruptured airbags have been reported by auto regulators. And lawyers aren’t clamouring for class-action suits, as in the US.

Takata’s response has also been muted, with its chairman remaining largely mum on the issue in recent months. While the company has apologised broadly to customers affected by the recalls, the only hint that it was bracing for more potential problems came during Takata’s recent financial results in early November. Takata, which forecast a wider loss for the year, said it “was not possible to predict further costs” related to the recalls.

“Takata takes very seriously the allegations made against the company,” Alby Berman, a Takata spokesman at its North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan, said in a statement. “Our chairman is ensuring that we fully cooperate with the government investigation. He is engaged and committed to leading the company through this process.”

The scope of the regulatory problem in Japan has been  limited so far. Between 2009 and 2013, authorities made a series of recalls, in the low thousands, for faulty Takata airbags. Just four incidents of ruptured airbags have been reported by Japanese regulators, with no deaths or injuries noted in their recall announcements.

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