IN HOT WATER: US officials are investigating Japanese airbag maker Tekata for its faulty air bags which as caused a multi-million vehicle global recall. Previous Corolla models are also affected in SA. Image: Toyota.
NEW YORK - Media reported Wednesday (Oct 22) that US justice officials are investigating Japanese auto part maker Takata as the government stepped up warnings about the dangers of its faulty airbags, with recalls affecting 7.8-million vehicles.
The Wall Street Journal said federal prosecutors in New York are probing whether Takata made misleading statements about the safety of its airbags to US regulators.
The report came as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the US auto saftey regulator, expanded its "urgent" warning to owners of cars with Takata airbags to take them to dealers to fix the problem.
Vehicles are being recalled because of the risk an airbag could improperly inflate and rupture, potentially sending shrapnel into the car's occupants.
According to the New York Times, at least 139 injuries have been tied to Takata airbags, including 37 reported as exploding air bags. Those include, according to the Times, three people killed in Takata-equipped Hondas.
The NHTSA said 7.8-million cars in the United States from 10 automakers are affected by Takata airbag recalls, and at least 10-million have been recalled worldwide.
Owners of the cars should "take immediate action" to address the airbag issue, the NHTSA said Wednesday. The recalls have occurred as far back as 18 months and as recently as Monday (Oct 20).
The reported probe comes as members of the US Congress have also begun to raise questions both about Takata and the NHTSA's action on the problem.
HIGH CLIMATE RISK
Fred Upton, chairman of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee and one of several who have raised the issue this week, hinted Wednesday at a possible investigation.
Upton said: "We also need to take a close look at this airbag issue and the timeline and scope of the recalls to ensure that the appropriate steps are being taken to protect drivers and their families. I've long said that when it comes to vehicle safety, there can be no margin for error."
The NHTSA said the need for action was especially urgent for car owners in warmer climates.
Investigators suspect that the airbags have a higher risk of rupturing in cars operated in areas with high humidity.
NHTSA deputy administrator David Friedman said: "Responding to these recalls, whether old or new, is essential to personal safety, and it will help aid our ongoing investigation into Takata airbags and what appears to be a problem related to extended exposure to consistently high humidity and temperatures.
"However, we're leaving no stone unturned in our aggressive pursuit to track down the full geographic scope of this issue."
Automakers affected by the recalls include: Honda, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota.
Affected models include such popular sellers as the 2001-2007 Honda Accord, the 2002-2005 Toyota Corolla - including South African models - and the 2005-2007 Ford Mustang.