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Ford expands Ranger Takata air bag recall

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Ford Motor Co. is expanding its recall of 25,000 2004-2005 Ranger pickup trucks to both passenger and driver air bags after Takata Corp. said the vehicle has similar inflators to a Honda vehicle involved in an incident that killed a pregnant woman in July in Malaysia.

Ford has no reports of problems with Ranger trucks but is investigating a report of an air bag injury in a 2007 Mustang.

Ford initially said it would only replace the passenger air bags in the vehicles.

The July 27 death in a Honda City car was the fifth worldwide — and first outside the United States —that has been linked to defective Takata inflators causing air bags to send metal fragments into vehicle occupants — including the death of a woman in Florida last month. More than 16 million vehicles have been recalled worldwide, including 7.8 million in the United States since 2013 by 10 major automakers.

Takata told National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it didn’t use the exact same inflator involved in the Malaysia incident for use in U.S. vehicles, “however it had produced a similar, but slightly different” inflator for use in 2004 and early 2005 Ford Ranger trucks. The recall is limited to trucks sold or currently registered in Florida, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands — high humidity areas where automakers and NHTSA think the potential for problems is highest.

Ford said in June it would recall 58,000 vehicles for Takata air bags including 13,000 Ranger trucks. Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker said last month the number has increased to 85,004 and was expanded to include the 2005-2008 Mustang and 2004-2005 Ranger. Felker said Friday Ford agreed to expand the ranger recall to both air bags because NHTSA asked for it.

NHTSA said it held talks with Ford about the issue in late September and October 2014. “In subsequent discussions with Ford and Takata, the parties agreed it would be advantageous to replace the” driver air bag “for the removed inflators to be returned to Takata for testing and evaluation.”

“We are aggressively investigating Takata air bags from all affected vehicle manufacturers, and we’re looking at all of the angles in our pursuit of safety,” Deputy NHTSA Administrator David Friedman said Friday.

Ford and Takata say they know of no problems in Ranger trucks.

Senators and safety advocates have harshly criticized automakers decision to limit much of the Takata recalls to high humidity areas.

NHTSA is investigating whether the recalls should be expanded by at least 1.1 million — and has been pushing automakers to do more.

NHTSA said in documents posted that it first learned of the Malaysian death from Honda on Sept. 11 — though Honda didn’t disclose it publicly until this week in Japan. Honda said it was expanding its recall of vehicles with inflator air bags by 170,000 — though none in the United States — in the aftermath of the Malaysian incident. Honda has recalled more than 5 million vehicles in the United States since 2013 with Takata air bags — and all five deaths linked to the issue were in Honda vehicles.

Takata said it is unaware of any inflator ruptures involving the Ranger with that inflator.Takata told the that the only vehicle to have a similar air bag inflator as the City was the 2004-2005 Ford Ranger.

The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on the issue, hearing testimony from NHTSA, Takata and Honda. The White House is preparing to nominate a permanent NHTSA administrator as early as next week after some senators had said a nomination could have come this week.

Takata said Thursday it has received a federal grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York over defective air bags.

The company — which also faces an investigation by NHTSA — said Thursday in a financial disclosure document that it faces a probe into exploding air bags that cause metal fragments to hit drivers and passengers, and are linked to five deaths worldwide.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, who will chair the hearing, said some automakers are dragging their feet in making fixes. He also criticized NHTSA, saying it “has not been right upfront, forward-leading and aggressive to protect the public.”

Takata noted it faces class-action lawsuits and said it has received a grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com