Honda spends millions on recall ads after 5 deaths

Ma Jie
Bloomberg News

Honda Motor Co., the carmaker at the center of an air-bag safety crisis, is spending millions of dollars on its first U.S. advertising campaign linked to a recall.

The company will urge owners to immediately replace potentially lethal air bags made by Takata Corp. in Honda cars through advertisements on March 16. The notices will be placed in more than 120 U.S. newspapers and announced on radio in more than 110 markets in English and Spanish, it said in a statement.

Honda is trying to ensure car owners take action to prevent potentially fatal accidents after a rupturing air bag in a Honda car claimed a fifth victim in January. Takata bags can fail during deployment and propel metal shards at passengers, a flaw that has led to millions of vehicle recalls by at least 10 automakers.

“These ads are a strong call to action from our company designed to break through the clutter, grab the attention of customers driving affected vehicles, and urge that they get required repairs as soon as possible,” John Mendel, executive vice president of the automobile division of Honda’s American unit, said in the statement.

The Tokyo-based maker of Civic compacts and Accord sedans will also use customized Facebook posts to capture owners attention and encourage them to take action, it said.

The carmaker’s campaign will prioritize regions in the U.S. with high humidity levels, which is believed to contribute to a greater risk of air-bag inflator rupture, Honda said.

Honda also said it has hired firms with specialized search skills and access to unique databases to locate registered owners in cases where postal notifications have been returned to the company as undeliverable.

The campaign follows comments by Honda Chief Executive Officer Takanobu Ito last month that the carmaker wasn’t able to track down and fix the car of Carlos Solis IV, a father of two teenagers. Solis was killed Jan. 18 in Houston in a second-hand Honda Accord he bought in April from a dealership that hadn’t performed a recall on the air bag issued in 2011.

Honda has issued recalls for 14 million vehicles worldwide since 2008 to replace air bags made by Takata, in which it has a 1.2 percent ownership stake. About one-third of all recalled vehicles in the U.S. are never repaired, according to Honda.