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Honda airbag recall adds to Japan auto sector woes

10 lutego, 2010

Honda, Japan\'s second-biggest carmaker after crisis-hit Toyota, Wednesday recalled more than 400,000 vehicles to fix airbags that it said can explode and spray out potentially deadly metal shards. 

The recall, the third related to the defect since late 2008, includes Honda Accord and Civic cars sold in the United States and Canada as well as models marketed in Japan, Mexico, Taiwan and Australia, the company said.

Honda said the defective air bag inflators could rupture, "resulting in metal fragments passing through the airbag cushion material and possibly causing injury or fatality to vehicle occupants".

It said it knew of 12 incidents involving the defect and one fatality, but added that there had been no new reports since last year.

The latest safety recall adds to the woes of Japan\'s auto industry, a key export earner of Asia\'s largest economy, since Toyota has made global headlines over its faulty accelerator and brake systems.

Toyota, the world\'s biggest car maker by sales, on Tuesday expanded its global recall to over 400,000 of its Prius and other petrol-electric hybrid models and has now pledged to fix 8.7 million vehicles worldwide. Related article: Toyota announces mass Prius recall

The three top ratings agencies have warned they may downgrade Toyota, which has already been punished by investors. Its stock fell more than 20 percent in about two weeks and was trading at 3,410 yen (38.00 dollars) Wednesday.

Company president Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the Toyota founder, has publicly apologised and plans to fly to the United States soon, where his company faces a congressional grilling and a host of lawsuits.

Angry consumers and Congress members claim Toyota knew about the dangerous problem of "sticky accelerators" for years but was slow to respond until it was prodded into action by US transport safety authorities.

In Japan too, the centre-left government -- which took power last year promising to put the interests of consumers before those of big business -- has ramped up pressure on Toyota, one of Japan\'s most iconic companies.

"I would like you to respect the viewpoint of drivers, and I wish you had taken measures earlier rather than simply saying it was not a major technical problem," Transport Minister Seiji Maehara told Toyoda on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said: "Not just Toyota, but all manufacturers must take early action when they see incidents that could endanger safety."

Maehara was due to meet US ambassador John Roos later on Wednesday, hoping to prevent the mass recall from developing into a diplomatic problem, amid rumblings of \'Japan-bashing\' in some sectors of the media in Japan.

Toyota dealers in Japan on Wednesday started fixing the software problems that can make brakes slow to respond in its third-generation Prius cars, its green flagship model manufactured in the country.

In a new headache for the auto giant, US authorities said Tuesday they were "reviewing" complaints about steering problems from Toyota Corolla drivers. No immediate comment was available from Toyota on the issue.

Honda\'s expanded recall of 437,763 vehicles worldwide -- most of them in North America -- is the third over the airbag problem that brings the total number of cars affected to more than 900,000.

It includes 9,227 vehicles in Mexico, 1,361 in Taiwan and 703 in Australia.

"We have concluded that we cannot be completely certain that the driver\'s airbag inflator in the vehicles being added to the recall at this time will perform as designed," Honda said in a statement.

The affected models are 2000 and 2001 versions of the Honda Accord, Civic, TL, CR-V, Odyssey, Pilot and CL in North America and the Inspire, Saber and Lagreat models sold in Japan, the Tokyo-based company said.

Last month Honda announced a global recall of some 646,000 Fit/Jazz and City cars after reports of fire breaking out in the models\' power-window switches.