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[TOKYO/OSAKA] The safety crisis plaguing the global automotive industry deepened as Japan's three biggest carmakers said they would recall at least 6.5 million more vehicles because of faulty air bags that send shrapnel into passengers.
Toyota Motor Corp will recall about 5 million more cars involving 35 models manufactured from March 2003 to November 2007, after finding air-bag inflators in Japan that could be susceptible to abnormal deployment in a crash, according to an e-mail from the company. Nissan Motor Co will call back 1.56 million, and begin notifying customers in June, said Dion Corbett, a company spokesman.
The latest safety campaigns add to the more than 17 million vehicles that 10 automakers have recalled since 2008 for faulty air bags made by Takata Corp. Regulators in Japan and the US are investigating Takata air-bag inflators that can deploy with too much force, breaking up metal and plastic parts and hurling them at car occupants.
"The biggest problem here is both carmakers and Takata have not specified the direct reason for the defect," said Takeshi Miyao, an analyst at researcher Carnorama in Tokyo. "They can't recall all the possible cars without knowing what the direct cause is as the costs are enormous and they don't know which side should cover the costs."
Honda Motor Co, the automaker most affected by the crisis with about 14.4 million vehicles recalled to date, is preparing additional recalls related to Takata air bags, Yuka Abe, a spokeswoman, said by telephone without providing details.
"This situation is unique in terms of its scope but it's going to be more common in the future because of the global nature of vehicle designs," said Neil Steinkamp, a managing director at Stout Risius Ross Inc. who studies warranty and recall issues. "This is playing out internationally as different regulators investigate."
More and more automakers are designing vehicles that share parts across millions of different models in many countries, so one failure can affect multiple lines, he said.
Nissan said the inflators involved in the latest recall were made at Takata's Monclova plant in Mexico, which also manufactured devices called back in previous safety campaigns.
Toyota said the latest recalls were triggered by investigations into a ruptured air-bag inflator recovered from a scrapped car at a salvage yard in Japan in November 2014. Air leaks were found that could allow moisture to seep into the device and cause the propellant to deteriorate, according to Kaya Doi, a Toyota spokeswoman.
"After further investigation, we decided to conduct this recall as a preventive measure," she said.
Takata spokesman Hideyuki Matsumoto declined to comment on the recalls, saying the company has no information on them.
Six fatalities in Honda cars, including five in the US. and one in Malaysia, have been blamed on shrapnel from Takata air bags. At least 105 injuries are connected to the flaw, US Senator Bill Nelson said last month.
The latest expansion shows the risk of being too cautious on expanding the recalls as government and corporate investigators look for a specific cause, Steinkamp said.
"You have tension between wanting to protect consumers and going as broad as possible with a recall versus the manufacturer who wants this to be fact-based," he said. "They need to be quicker. You need to go broader if you can't identify the specific cause. There should be a low bar for death."
Takata, which has forecast a return to profit this fiscal year, has said it's unable to estimate the penalties from the lawsuits associated with the air bags and hasn't set aside any amount to cover them as the cause of the defect is still being investigated.
Toyota said it will replace the affected front driver-side air-bag inflators with newly manufactured parts produced by Daicel Corp. Takata will supply the replacements for front passenger-side air-bag inflators because compatible parts from a different supplier aren't available, Toyota said.
Toyota said it isn't aware of injuries or fatalities from the affected vehicles in the latest recall. Of the approximately 5 million recalled, 1.36 million are in Japan, about 1.3 million are in Europe while 637,000 are in the US., the company said.
Nissan will recall vehicles manufactured from 2004 to 2007 and its dealers will test the inflators and replace as necessary, the company said in an e-mailed statement. The automaker has already recalled vehicles in regions with high humidity such as the Gulf Coast in the US and inflators in these vehicles will be replaced without testing, it said.
A group of 10 automakers hired aerospace and defense company Orbital ATK Inc to test potentially faulty Takata air- bag inflators. The Japanese component maker has also commissioned German research group Fraunhofer Society to investigate the cause of air bag ruptures.