Japan’s transport minister Akihiro Ohta said Friday that the accidents and recalls linked to air bags made by Tokyo-based Takata could threaten the world's confidence in the country’s auto industry. The faulty air bags have so far been linked to five deaths worldwide and the company faces a criminal investigation in the U.S.
Ohta also said that the government will order Takata's customers to issue a nationwide recall in Japan, if the U.S. extends its recall, Bloomberg reported. The country’s transport ministry has also asked Takata to report on how it plans to tackle U.S. authorities’ recent demand to extend its safety campaigns across the U.S. by Dec. 2. The company has so far limited the campaign to regions with high humidity, which reportedly triggers an explosive deployment of the air bags, accompanied by metal fragments.
"This is an extremely important issue for automobile safety," Ohta said, according to Reuters, adding: "Japanese manufacturing enjoys a high level of trust so I am worried this situation will shake that confidence."
Ohta's statement follows Japan's decision, earlier this week, to form a special task force to handle the increasing number of recalls. On Thursday, Toyota expanded its recalls and also said that the company and its subsidiary, Daihatsu, would recall 85,000 vehicles outside the U.S. to repair air bags on the driver’s side. Until now, recalls at the world's largest carmaker were limited to issues with passenger-side air bags.
“Although we haven’t confirmed the minister’s remarks, we deeply apologize for the troubles caused to all by our air-bag defects,” Toyohiro Hishikawa, a spokesperson for Takata, told Bloomberg, adding: “We will exert all efforts to regain the trust.”
Nearly 14 million vehicles have been recalled globally, with Japan accounting for about 2.6 million recalls, mostly for faulty air bags on the passenger side.
“If there is a nationwide recall in the U.S., we’ve directed Takata to take the same measure in Japan,” Ohta said, after a cabinet meeting, according to the New York Times, adding: “There is a risk that trust in Japanese carmakers could weaken, so the problem must be resolved as quickly as possible.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ordered Takata to expand its recalls for driver-side air bags to cover the entire country. The move is expected to trigger recalls by Ford Motors, Honda Motor Co, Chrysler Group LLC, Mazda Motor Corp and BMW AG. The regulator has reportedly given Takata time until Tuesday to order the recalls or be fined up to $7,000 for each vehicle.
“The biggest question mark is nobody knows exactly how many more have to be recalled, and as a result, nobody knows what’s going to be the final damage,” Koji Endo, an analyst at Advanced Research Japan, said, according to Bloomberg, adding: “Almost every week, we have an additional 100,000 or 50,000 recalls around the world.”