Mazda expands Takata air bag recall by 40,000 vehicles

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Mazda Motor Co. said Thursday it will recall another 40,000 vehicles in an expanded number of high-humidity states because of Takata passenger air bags that can explode. The recall came a day after Chrysler Group LLC and Ford Motor Co. announced expanded callbacks.

The models include the 2003-2007 Mazda6, 2004-2008 RX-8, 2006-2007 Mazdaspeed6, 2004-2005 MPV, and 2004 B-Series Trucks registered in Florida and Hawaii. Today it was expanded to include Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Texas and Alabama.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been pressuring automakers to expand the population of vehicles in the regional passenger air bag recalls from beyond Florida, Hawaii and warm weather U.S. territories after Takata on Nov. 10 expanded the zone of high humidity areas to Georgia. Alabama; Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Previously, Mazda said it was recalling about 44,000 vehicles in the United States and 2,600 in Puerto Rico. The new total is about 86,773.

Mazda is among the automakers that has agreed to join the independent, industrywide joint testing initiative proposed by Toyota Motor Corp.

On Wednesday, Honda Motor Co. agreed to a U.S. government request to expand nationwide its recall of driver-side air bags.

In November, NHTSA asked Takata and five automakers — Honda, Ford, Chrysler, BMW and Mazda Motor Co. — to issue nationwide recalls for millions of vehicles with driver-side air bags. Until Wednesday, none had done so. Honda accounted for the majority of vehicles recalled in the United States for air bag problems.

Also Wednesday, Chrysler said it will recall an additional 149,150 pickups, but stopped far short of the broader U.S. recall request. Ford also said Wednesday it would expand its regional passenger air bag recall by 13,000 vehicles.

Their actions took place even as the defiant Takata Corp. refused Wednesday to extend a nationwide recall of driver-side air bags, despite a demand by NHTSA. The Japanese auto supplier came under harsh criticism at a congressional hearing Wednesday because of its refusal.

Inflators in the Takata bags can explode and shoot metal shrapnel at drivers and passengers. At least four people in Hondas have been killed and 30 injured in the U.S., mostly in high-humidity areas like Florida.

Most recalls have been regional to date, limited to hot and humid places like Florida and Hawaii, where most of the exploding air bags have been reported. Hiroshi Shimizu, Takata's senior vice president of global quality assurance, told a House subcommittee Wednesday that the scientific evidence "doesn't support a change from regional recall to national recall."

Last week, NHTSA formally demanded Takata declare that millions of vehicles sold with driver-side air bags nationwide are defective, the first step toward forcing the company to recall the vehicles. NHTSA hasn't sought a nationwide recall of passenger-side air bags.

NHTSA is not empowered to order a recall. Because Takata refused, the next step will be for NHTSA to issue an initial decision demanding a recall and to schedule a public hearing, where it could hear graphic testimony from people who have been injured. If Takata refuses after the hearing, the agency would have to go to court to enforce the recall demand.

Chrysler previously said it was limiting its recall to vehicles sold or registered in high-humidity areas of Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. NHTSA said the recall should include southern Georgia, Guam, Saipan, American Samoa and areas along the coast of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Chrysler agreed in June to recall 371,000 2003-08 Dodge Rams, 2004-08 Dodge Durangos, 2007-08 Chrysler Aspens, 2005-08 Chrysler 300s, 2005-08 Dodge Dakotas and 2006-07 Mitsubishi Raiders.

Chrysler's expanded recall announced Wednesday only covers the 2003 Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 pickups sold or ever registered in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan and the Virgin Islands.

NHTSA in a statement blasted Chrysler and suggested a new battle is coming: "Chrysler's latest recall is insufficient, doesn't meet our demands, and fails to include all inflators covered by Takata's defect information report. NHTSA will determine next steps and take appropriate actions to ensure Chrysler acts to protect its customers," the agency said in a statement.

Ford's announcement said it would expand its regional passenger side air bag recall by 13,000 vehicles at NHTSA's request. The automaker has now recalled 98,000 vehicles with Takata air bags. The expanded recall includes certain 2004-05 Ford Ranger and 2005-06 Ford GTs originally sold or ever registered in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It adds certain ZIP codes with high humidity in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Guam, Saipan and American Samoa.

Last month, Ford expanded its recall of vehicles with Takata air bags by 25,000 2004-05 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.