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Automakers cautious on broadening air bag recall

David Shepardson and Mike Wayland
he Detroit News

Washington — Automakers are taking a cautious approach to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s urgent call late Tuesday that it expand its recall of some driver side air bags to a nationwide callback.

NHTSA asked Honda Motor Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC, Mazda Motor Co. and BMW AG to recall an unspecified number of vehicles nationwide. Previously, callbacks had only been ordered in high-humidity states like Florida. The cars have potentially faulty air bag inflators made by Takata that can send metal fragments flying.

The five automakers all said Wednesday they were still studying the issue. Honda, Chrysler and Takata executives are to testify before a Senate panel Thursday about the recalls.

Five deaths have been linked to the air bags, all in Hondas. Ten major automakers have recalled 7.8 million vehicles for the problem.

On Wednesday, NHTSA posted letters from automakers.

Honda said out of about 5 million vehicles recalled since 2013, it has repaired about 300,000.

GM and Nissan both said they sent letters to thousands of vehicle owners by FedEx rather than regular mail — a very unusual step. Nissan said it has repaired about 66,000 out of 438,000 vehicles recalled in the U.S. in a 2013 campaign. In its regional recall, it has repaired about 3,000 of 30,000 Pathfinders, Sentras and Infinitis recalled in high-humidity areas.

GM said it will provide loaners to customers whose recall repairs are delayed. Of 98,000 GM vehicles recalled, about 12,500 have been repaired. Most are Pontiac Vibes assembled by Toyota for GM at a now-closed joint venture.

Toyota Motor Corp. told NHTSA that while it is disabling some passenger air bags if it lacks parts, it will provide loaner vehicles if the customer prefers that option. Toyota has repaired about 44,000 out of 877,000 vehicles.

Mazda said it is offering free rental cars to customers on a “case-by-case basis.” Mazda has fixed about 500 out of 43,000 vehicles in service.

General Motors Co. product chief Mark Reuss said Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show that GM is still trying to figure out the root cause of the problems. “There’s a lot of questions.”

Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, said the automaker is still sifting through the data. “We’re all trying to understand exactly what we’re looking for and what we’re going to do, but we’re definitely going to make sure we take care of our customers,” he told reporters.

Ford uses Takata for other parts besides air bag inflators, including a new steering system in the Edge, and Hinrich said that partnership will continue.

“We have a very good relationship,” he said. “We’ve worked together on these new technologies, and we’ll continue to work together.”