Six major car makers, including Toyota, Honda and Nissan, are recalling nearly 3.4 million older-model vehicles throughout the world because of defective airbags that can send shrapnel flying into the passenger compartment.
The recall mainly affects cars sold by Japanese manufacturers in North America, Europe and Japan, but a small number of cars made by Germany's BMW and Vauxhall parent company General Motors also involved.
The front passenger airbags were made by the same parts supplier, Japan's Takata. They have faulty inflator mechanisms that do not route gas into the airbags. Instead, the high-pressure gas can launch plastic and metal parts from the air bags into the cars' passenger areas. Takata says no-one has been hurt, but there have been six incidents of the airbags deploying improperly.
The recall, announced on Thursday in Japan, is so large because many car makers use common parts on multiple models to cut costs and simplify manufacturing, an approach pioneered by Japanese manufacturers.
The recall will bring a great deal of unwelcome publicity for car makers, especially Toyota, said IHS Automotive analyst Paul Newton. The world's top-selling car company is trying to rebuild a reputation for quality that was hurt by previous big recalls. The latest recall is the fourth for Toyota since October that involves more than a million vehicles, Mr Newton said. And the company endured a series of huge recalls in 2009 and 2010 for faulty braking, sticky accelerator pedals and defective floor mats.
Toyota will have to inspect or fix 1.7 million vehicles worldwide, including about 580,000 in North America, 490,000 in Europe and 320,000 in Japan. The models include the Corolla, Matrix hatchback, Sequoia SUV, and Tundra pick-up, as well as the Lexus SC 430 sports car. All the vehicles were manufactured from 2001 to 2003. But the latest recall affects other major car makers, including Toyota's chief Japanese competitor Honda, which is recalling 1.1 million vehicles worldwide, including about 680,000 in North America, 270,000 in Japan and 64,000 in Europe. Models include the Civic, CR-V SUV and Odyssey minivan from the 2001 to 2003.
Nissan is recalling 480,000 vehicles worldwide, including about 265,000 in the US. Models include the Maxima saloon, Pathfinder SUV and Sentra compact as well as the Infiniti FX crossover and QX4 SUV, all from the 2001-2003 model years. Recalled models in Japan include the Cube, X-Trail, Maxima and Teana. Mazda is also part of the recall. About 45,000 Mazda RX-8 and Mazda 6 cars are affected, including 4,000 in Japan. The company said recalls will be announced in North America, Europe, China and elsewhere.
At GM, only 55,000 2003 Pontiac Vibe hatchbacks sold in the US and Canada are being recalled.They are nearly identical to the Toyota Matrix and were made at a California plant that run jointly with Toyota. Meanwhile, BMW said it was researching the problem but no numbers or models were available.
The firms said said they would inspect the airbag inflators and replace them if necessary at no cost to owners.
The air bag problem happened because of two human errors during production. A worker forgot to turn on the switch for a system weeding out defective products and parts were improperly stored, which exposed them to humidity, said Honda spokeswoman Akemi Ando.