Few delays in repairs so far, but will that last?
Embroiled in a massive recall related to airbags, Honda Motor Co. and its U.S. dealers have gotten off to an orderly start in repairing affected vehicles.
But in the months ahead, trouble could arise in getting enough parts to repair all the affected vehicles, as Honda conducts what amounts to a region-by-region rollout of a national recall.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lists 7.8 million vehicles made by at least 11 automakers as potentially subject to recalls due to airbag inflators made by Takata Corp. that can rupture violently when the safety devices are deployed, spraying vehicle occupants with shards of metal.
At least three deaths and 30 injuries have been linked to inflators that exploded.
According to NHTSA, Honda and its Acura luxury brand account for 5.1 million — or almost two-thirds — of the potentially affected vehicles. That number has raised concerns about the company’s ability to secure enough replacement inflators to satisfy the stream of customers who will be pulling into service bays for repairs.
But so far, Honda dealers said they are experiencing few delays when ordering new inflator modules, and are usually able to fix vehicles for their customers within one or two days.
“If a customer comes in before 3 in the afternoon, we usually can order the part from the warehouse and have the car done the next day,” said Taz Harvey, owner of a Honda store in Tracy, Calif.
AutoNation Inc., which owns 22 Honda franchises, said it has been able to make repairs for most customers overnight. “Two days at most,” said Marc Cannon, a spokesman for the nation’s largest dealership group.
NHTSA logged only six complaints in October from customers who reported that dealers said they could not get replacement parts. None were reported in the preceding three months, according to the agency’s website.
“At this point, everything is OK,” said Adam Silverleib, vice president of Silko Honda in Raynham, Mass.
The question is how long it can stay that way.
Takata is scrambling to ramp up production of replacement inflators for vehicles that went out of production years ago. Most of the affected vehicles were from the 2001-07 model years.
In August, Takata produced 132,459 replacement inflators, according to data that was compiled by NHTSA and first reported by The Detroit News. By February, Takata’s cumulative output is expected to reach 1.47 million devices.
But that’s still well short of the number of inflators Honda needs to repair 2.8 million vehicles it has recalled in 11 states and territories. And it doesn’t include the inflators that other automakers need for their own recalls.
A Honda spokesman said he could not provide an estimate of how many replacement parts the automaker has on hand but added that the current stock is enough to repair vehicles in four states and territories — Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — that NHTSA has prioritized because of their high humidity, a factor believed to contribute to overly violent airbag explosions.
While 5.1 million Honda and Acura vehicles are on NHTSA’s list of potential recalls, a Honda spokesman said Honda has not issued a recall for the remaining 2.3 million vehicles in the other states with lower humidity levels. He did say, though, that owners of all cars on the NHTSA list can take them to a Honda dealer for a new inflator if they wish.
“We are working to procure parts for the remaining vehicles,” the spokesman said. “This condition is changing on a daily basis as parts are in production, and we continue to receive additional replacement part supplies as they become available.”
The Takata-related recalls affect varying numbers of vehicles from Mazda, BMW, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors.
Takata has approached two competitors, TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. and Autoliv Inc., about possibly enlisting them to help manufacture replacement inflators.
American Honda started replacing airbag inflators in humid states and areas. Here’s the two-step recall plan.
First stage: Four states and territories with hot, humid climates: Florida, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and U.S. Virgin Islands. Honda and other automakers announced a recall for this area in June.
Second stage: Honda is conducting a “regional safety improvement campaign” for vehicles registered or first sold in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and California. The first- and second-priority regions, 11 states and territories, add up to 2.8 million recalls, says Honda.
Don’t sit there
Until cars are repaired, the potentially defective airbags could pose a danger to drivers and their passengers. Toyota Motor Corp., which has 877,000 vehicles covered by Takata recalls, has advised owners to drive with their front passenger seats unoccupied until they can get their airbags fixed, to avoid the chance that an occupant could be injured if an inflator malfunctions. In other words, passengers should sit in back.
Honda is not following suit, but rather is simply urging customers to “take immediate action” to have their cars serviced, the spokesman said. Honda and Acura have set up 800 numbers their owners can call to inquire about other possible customer service actions. Dealers said Honda has been willing to cover the cost of rental cars for customers to drive until their vehicles are fixed, especially if they have cars whose driver’s side airbags are affected.
Even if the supply of replacement inflators proves adequate, Honda faces the risk of damage to its image and reputation as the recall details unfold. Honda learned of the first complaint of a ruptured inflator in 2004, but it has taken years for the company to uncover the scope of the problem.
Its first inflator recall, in 2008, involved 3,940 vehicles: Accords and Civics from just the 2001 model year. In a recall in 2009, Honda said the problem affected up to 440,000 vehicles. In December 2011, another recall expanded the number to 1.7 million, including the Accord, Civic, CR-V, Odyssey and Pilot, from the 2001-07 model years. A June recall covered 2.8 million cars and trucks.
So far two class-action lawsuits related to Takata inflators have been filed in federal court — one in Florida and one in California — naming Honda and the other automakers as co-defendants. They accuse Takata and the car companies of neglecting to address the issue quickly.