Recall troubles mount for auto supplier Takata – USA TODAY
For an otherwise largely unnoticeable automotive supplier accustomed to staying in the background, Japan’s Takata couldn’t be more front and center as its air-bag recall woes mount.
The problem, which centers on air bags that can spew metal shards when they deploy in accidents, has now engulfed six automakers in the U.S. that have more than 4.8 million vehicles affected from 2013 and 2014 recalls. Millions more vehicles are involved in recalls abroad, including other automakers.
The debacle is putting huge costs on Takata, which took a $440 million charge against earnings over the summer. Shrapnel from Takata air bags is now blamed for at least two deaths.
And it’s not the first time Takata has faced the spotlight. A decade ago, it was at the center of a huge seat-belt recall.
The latest air-bag recall development came Monday when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said there’s “urgency” for owners of cars in certain high-humidity states and U.S. territories to bring in their cars under recall for repair. It cited Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands as being particularly vulnerable.
As a result, Toyota added another 28,515 vehicles this week in high-humidity areas to its recall list and said it is notifying 218,000. owners for a second time of the need to bring in their cars. “We’re prioritizing a very specific geographical area” in order to “get them to the head of the line,” says spokeswoman Cindy Knight.
She says Takata, which has been examining parts returned to the company from the recall, has a seen a “pattern” of potential defects in high-humidity areas. She predicts other automakers will follow-up as well. “We’re all going to be doing this,” Knight says.
While Takata is largely out of sight, it is one of a handful of suppliers to the auto industry that makes air bags, which are standard equipment in all new cars these days. But the defects have become an international problem. Besides Toyota, Takata supplied air bags to Japanese makers that sell vehicles in the U.S., like Honda, Nissan and Mazda. But it also made air bags for various models from Detroit’s General Motors and Germany’s BMW.
It’s a strange turn of events for a company founded as a textile maker in 1933 in Japan’s Shiga Prefecture that would later find a niche making safety equipment for cars. Takata says it started looking at seat belts after researching straps made for parachutes. It made its first two-point seat belts in 1960, a time when the drive to make cars safer was in its infancy. It says it’s research on air bags began in 1976.
But Takata has faced other trouble along the way. In 1995, Takata faced what the Center for Auto Safety says was the second largest recall in the history of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The recall centered on 8.4 million potentially defected seat-belt buckles that went into vehicles for 11 predominantly Japanese automakers. The recall came after owners complained their buckles wouldn’t latch, released automatically or during accidents.
For now, Takata has become synonymous with air bag trouble. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, based on unnamed sources, that is Honda is now ordering some air bag inflaters from a rival Daicel, of Osaka, Japan. And it says rivals like Sweden’s Autoliv are zeroing in on Takata’s business.