TOKYO -- Honda Motor President Takanobu Ito said his company is planning to launch a worldwide investigative airbag recall, just days after extending a similar callback in the United States.
Ito also expressed frustration with the response of Japanese airbag supplier Takata Corp., but said Honda will offer support if Takata tips into financial difficulties.
Ito said he regretted not acting sooner to have Honda’s own engineers assess the root cause of the exploding airbags, which have been linked to five deaths, including four in the U.S.
“We cannot depend on Takata to find the cause,” Ito told Japan’s Nihon Keizei Shimbun newspaper in his first interview since the Takata airbag crisis abruptly worsened this fall.
“We should have taken action based on the view that it’s a vehicle problem instead of a parts problem,” he said.
Ito’s comments follow Honda’s decision to extend a U.S. safety improvement campaign of driver-side airbags nationwide after initially limiting that U.S. recall to only humid regions.
The new callback, detailed Dec. 8, added 2.6 million vehicles to the U.S. count, putting the U.S. total to some 8.74 million.
The total includes about 3.5 million previously included in the safety improvement campaign in humid areas, and another 3.34 million vehicle subjected to full recalls for faulty airbags, in which the cause of the defects has already been determined.
On Dec. 9, Honda implemented a similar safety improvement campaign to recall and inspect 134,584 vehicles in Japan.
Globally, Honda has now recalled at least 13 million vehicles since 2008.
Honda spokesman Teruhiko Tatebe confirmed that Honda is considering an expansion of the investigative recall to other regions beyond the U.S. and Japan. Honda is still deciding how to proceed, but affected regions could include Asia and Europe.
A Honda Europe spokesman told Automotive News Europe that the automaker is not currently organizing a recall in Europe, but said it was still “in the process of identifying the number of potentially affected vehicles and countries” in the region. Honda will then carry out a “similar investigation by collecting the potentially affected vehicles,” he added.
The recalls are being extended to pinpoint the cause of some exploding driver-side airbags. Recalled cars get a replacement airbag inflator; the old inflator is then inspected to see what the possible defect may be, Tatebe said. The extended recalls would affect cars with certain inflators made in Mexico.
Rupturing driver-side airbags initially prompted Honda to call back cars in only in humid regions of the U.S.
But the rupturing of a Honda airbag in California and a Ford airbag in North Carolina, led regulators to hypothesize that humidity was a not a factor. With a root cause still undetermined, Honda is now extending the recalls to regions that aren’t humid, such as Japan and the Northern U.S.
“If the same problem exists, we want to respond the same way everywhere,” Ito said of plans for a global safety campaign.
Honda aims to rule on global recalls in the “near future,” and they should number less than 1 million vehicles, Tatebe said.
Ito’s interview spotlighted a growing rift with Takata.
He told the Nihon Keizai Shimbun that he expanded the U.S. recall, despite resistance from Takata, because of mounting criticism in the U.S. Honda joined other carmakers in an industry-wide initiative to independently assess the airbags because Takata had failed to determine the cause, he added.
Honda will ask Takata to repay the recall costs, Ito said.
But he also left a lot of wiggle room for financial help down the road if the costs begin to bury the supplier.
“If no one else helps, we will have to do something,” said Ito, who did not offer a cost estimate. “If Takata becomes unable to supply air bags, not just Honda but all automakers will be in trouble. We will ensure Takata can keep supplying.”
Ito pledged he would see the recall crisis through to the end: “If I quit now, I cannot fulfill my responsibilities.”