In the latest sign that automakers are still struggling to understand the scope of the Takata air bag crisis, Honda Motor said Wednesday that it would expand its recall by more than a third in North America.
The latest action, for 2.23 million vehicles, reveals just how much Honda, a longtime partner of Takata and the automaker most affected by the defective air bags, continues to be haunted by them. Now, Honda alone has recalled as many as 8 million vehicles in the United States — more than a quarter of the recall’s overall total. The newly recalled vehicles are part of a broader announcement by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month that 5 million more vehicles with the defective air bags would have to be recalled. At the time it did not have a breakdown of manufacturers.
The air bags can rupture when they deploy, sending debris into the car’s cabin. At least 10 deaths, including nine in the United States, and more than 100 injuries have been linked to the defect. Nine of the deaths were in vehicles made by Honda. When a car is recalled, it receives a new inflater, a metal casing containing the explosives that help inflate the air bag. The explosives, which contain a volatile compound called ammonium nitrate, can break down over time or when exposed to moisture, and may pose a danger.
Honda and Takata have been aware of the defect since at least 2004, when an air bag ruptured in a 2002 Honda Accord. At the time, the manufacturers deemed the rupture an anomaly and did not alert safety regulators. It took Honda four more years to issue the first recall by an automaker over the defect, in 2008, and only for 4,000 vehicles. But since then, the problem has snowballed. Fourteen automakers have recalled about 28 million inflaters in 24 million vehicles. (In some cars, air bags on both the driver and passenger side have been recalled.) But the problem is potentially more widespread. Takata has sold as many as 54 million inflaters since 2000 that contain ammonium nitrate, according to an estimate by Valient Market Research. That leaves tens of millions of cars with potentially problematic inflaters on the road that have not been fixed or, in some cases, have not even been recalled.
The recent death of a South Carolina man highlighted the risks posed by cars that contain Takata air bags but have not been recalled. Joel Knight was killed after the air bag in his 2006 Ford Ranger exploded after an accident, sending metal fragments into his throat. His air bag had not been recalled. Ford has since recalled the 2006 Ranger. Gordon Trowbridge, a spokesman for the NHTSA, confirmed Wednesday that the agency had received a recall filing from Honda. Honda’s expansion of its recall was first reported by Automotive News.
The safety agency announced a significant expansion of the recalls last week, extending it to two manufacturers, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz, that had not previously been affected. That came after NHTSA in November imposed a $70 million penalty on Takata, a fine that could increase to $130 million if Takata does not meet terms of an agreement with the agency. It also noted that Takata had produced testing reports that contained selective or inaccurate data.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., the ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, denounced what he called “the never-ending flow of piecemeal recall announcements for Takata air bags,” which he said “needs to end.” “It is time for NHTSA to get Takata out of this process,” he said. He also called for speedier efforts to address a shortage of replacement inflaters, saying car owners “shouldn’t have to wait months to get their cars fixed.”