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Monday, April 15, 2013

Six automakers recall 3.4 million vehicles worldwide over faulty air bags

Story originally appeared on the Detroit News.

Washington — A massive recall by six automakers for air bags that could catch fire or send metal fragments flying won't expand to other automakers.

The recall of 3.4 million vehicles worldwide, including more than 1 million in the U.S., is caused by a single faulty part in air bags built a decade ago in Washington State. It's the latest example of what can happen when common parts are shared among automakers.

Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co, Mazda Motor Co., General Motors Co. and BMW AG are recalling 3.4 million vehicles because of a faulty air bag part produced by Takata, the automakers said Thursday. Takata said no other automakers were affected.

Toyota is recalling 1.7 million vehicles worldwide, including 510,000 in the U.S. They include these 2001-03 models: Toyota Corolla, Matrix, Sequoia and Tundra; and the Lexus SC 430.

GM said it planned to recall 48,000 2003 Pontiac Vibes in the United States, and another 7,000 in Canada. The Vibe was assembled at a joint GM-Toyota facility.

Toyota said its investigation was prompted after learning about a fire in an instrument panel in a 2011 crash involving a faulty air bag inflator.

In 2012, the automaker received three reports of fractured inflator parts in U.S. vehicles. Toyota said it believes just 170,000 of the U.S. vehicles will need repairs, but all 510,000 will have to be inspected.

U.S. auto safety officials are keeping a close eye on the issue.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it has been in communication with Takata and the automakers. "The agency will continue to monitor the situation closely and will take appropriate action as warranted," NHTSA said.

Honda is recalling 561,000 vehicles in the U.S.: the 2001-03 Civic, 2002-03 CR-V and 2002 Odyssey. Honda said it became aware of a ruptured passenger air bag in Puerto Rico in October 2011 and began investigating. It will begin notifying owners of the recall next month.

"It is possible that the passenger front air bag inflators in affected vehicles may deploy with too much pressure, which may cause the inflator casing to rupture and could result in injury," the automaker said. "Honda is aware of one crash in which a passenger front air bag deployed with too much pressure, causing the casing to rupture. Honda is not aware of any injuries or deaths related to this issue."

Nissan is recalling about 480,000 Nissans and Infinitis worldwide. About 265,000 are in the United States: the 2001-03 Nissan Maxima, Pathfinder and Sentra; and the Infiniti FX and QX4.

Mazda is recalling just 149 vehicles in the U.S. — some 2003-04 Mazda6 and 2004 RX-8 vehicles.

Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at automotive research site Edmunds.com, said the recall shows the impact of using common parts.

"This recall is an example of one of the downsides of using 'super suppliers' for important vehicle components," she said.

Takata, which has a major presence in southeast Michigan and its headquarters in Auburn Hills, said it is aware of six incidents worldwide: two in Japan and four in the U.S. The company said there have been no injuries.

Takata told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it also provided faulty inflators to BMW AG, though it is not clear how many vehicles might be impacted, the German automaker said.

The Japanese auto supplier's stock fell 9 percent in Tokyo on the recall news, after falling as much as 15 percent.

Takata said the problem was primarily caused by a faulty manufacturing process at its Moses Lake, Wash., plant.

The machine at issue was modified by at least September 2002. Takata also said some air bag parts may have been exposed to moisture at its plant in Moncolva, Mexico.

Over the last year, more than 3 million vehicles have been recalled for faulty air bags in the U.S.