After starting as mainly a U.S. issue, the Takata airbag recall now goes global. The Japanese auto parts manufacturer is looking at 16.8 million total international vehicle recalls as injuries and deaths rise.
The first recall in connection with Takata airbags started in April 2013 and involved 700,000 cars made by Honda, Nissan, Mazda, and Toyota. Airbags would deploy and rupture the inflater, which sent its pieces into the bodies of drivers or passengers. In the U.S., it was first believed the rupture was limited to humid regions as that is where the incidents occurred. The first incident of it happened in Florida.
Recalls started with passenger airbags only and then expanded to include both front airbags. It eventually included 7.8 million vehicles manufactured by not only Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, and Honda, but also BMW, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors. It is likely millions more will be added to this list as more information surfaces.
However, the Takata airbag recall went global after the death of Law Suk Leh in Sibu, Malaysia. While driving a 2003 Honda City, Law collided with another vehicle, deploying the airbag. Metal particles from the air bag imbedded into her neck. Law, who was in the late stages of pregnancy, died of blood loss before reaching the hospital. Doctors performed an emergency caesarean to deliver her daughter but she died two days later. Honda found discovered the same defect as in earlier recalls and traced installation to its Thailand plant.
So far, there are 139 alleged injuries and five deaths from the defective airbag inflaters as the Takata airbag recall goes to a global scale. The initial belief was that the defective inflater was only installed in vehicles for the North American market. This conclusion changed after Law’s death and Honda’s investigation.
Due to allegations of negligence, U.S. regulators are taking a closer look at the manufacturer. Takata faces a Senate hearing on auto safety starting Thursday. Hiroshi Shimizu, senior vice president for quality assurance, is expected to testify along with other company executives. The National Highway Traffic Administration requested additional information and a detailed report to examine the matter in more detail and perhaps recommend criminal charges.
While Takata faces scrutiny from the U.S., he is not experiencing the same treatment on its home soil. There are no lawsuits in Japan connected with this matter. Automobile recalls have only totaled into the thousands. However, it is likely those numbers are underestimated as the Japanese legal system discourages product liability lawsuits based on automobile defects.
The company remained quiet on the issue which aroused further suspicion. General apologies have been considered ineffective. Takata brass expects profit loss, but also communicated the intention to fully cooperate with the federal investigation. The allegations are already affecting its bottom line as stock prices dropped 50 percent from a 52-week high.
Unfortunately, the global airbag recall is not Takata’s first go at safety issues. In 1996, its seatbelts failed to latch causing 90 injuries. That resulted in a recall of 8.8 million General Motors and Chevrolet cars. Airbag defects started in 2002, and it is alleged that the current defect was detected in 2004, but the company distributed the part anyway. Takata denies this claim.
By Jocelyn Mackie