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Toyota expanding Takata air bag recall

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Toyota is expanding its recall of cars with faulty air bags manufactured by Japanese auto parts manufacturer Takata by 198,000 vehicles, the company announced on Wednesday.

The new recalls will apply to 2008 editions of Toyota’s Corolla and Corolla Matrix models and 2008-10 versions of its Lexus SC430 vehicles, the company said. The latest recalls bring Toyota’s total number of affected vehicles to approximately 3,156,000 in the U.S. and 15,289,000 globally, according to company officials.

Toyota said Wednesday the involved vehicles are equipped with a Takata-produced dual-stage front passenger air bag inflator which could potentially be susceptible to rupture when deployed in a crash. Metal fragments from exploding inflators can be thrown at drivers and passengers. Faulty Takata air bag inflators have have been linked to 10 deaths.

“All known owners of the affected Toyota/Lexus vehicles will be notified by first-class mail,” the company said. “Dealers will replace the air bag inflator or the air bag assembly with a newly manufactured one at no cost.”

Takata has been under fire since issuing a recall in late 2014 of about 8 million cars in areas of the country with high humidity; humid conditions cause propellant in Takata’s inflators to become unstable and explode with excessive force. The recall was later expanded to include another 17 million cars after federal regulators put pressure on Takata to expand warnings beyond areas of the country where weather conditions are humid.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the recall of defective air bag inflators made by Takata now involves 14 vehicle manufacturers and millions of U.S. vehicles.

Lawmakers in Washington have accused Takata of “widespread manipulation” of air bag inflation tests. A report from Democrats on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee alleges that “numerous internal documents and emails reference the widespread manipulation of inflator testing results by Takata employees.”

“Emails and documents reviewed by committee minority staff reveal a culture within Takata that, at a minimum, did not prioritize the safety of its products — and perhaps operated with an utter disregard for safety,” the report says.

Takata has said “the issues raised in the documents cited in the Senate committee report are entirely inexcusable and will not be tolerated or repeated.”

The company has also publicly apologized for the faulty air bags amid congressional inquiries into its handling of the defective parts.

Takata has reached a $70 million settlement with NHTSA over the recalls.