File photo: Honda

Four Japanese carmakers, including Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Mazda, are recalling 3.4 million vehicles sold around the world because airbags supplied by component supplier Takata are at risk of catching fire or injuring passengers.

The move announced on Thursday is the largest recall ever for airbags made by Takata, the world's second-largest supplier of airbags and seatbelts and it affects some vehicles made early in the last decade.

A number of South African vehicles are expected to be recalled.

Certain, but  not all, Toyota Corolla models sold between 2000 and 2004 will be recalled by Toyota SA. The company is in the process of checking VIN numbers and will contact customers as soon as possible. Those concerned that Toyota might not be able to contact them (ie: second or third owners) can leave their details at their nearest Toyota dealer.

Nissan SA states that 694 of its X-Trail, Patrol and Almera vehicles are affected and that its quality team is busy with VIN numbers and contacting customers.

A number local of Hondas are being recalled, comprising of 1047 Civics built between 2001 and 2003 as well as 121 CR-V models (2002 to 2003). Honda says that owners of affected vehicles will be contacted by letter and those with queries can contact Honda SA on 0800 466321 or e-mail: [email protected]

All three manufacturers will replace the faulty airbag inflator free of charge.

Mazda South Africa says that none of its vehicles are known to be affected, and we're expecting a response from Toyota South Africa shortly.

SO WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

In an accident, the airbag for the front passenger seat may not inflate correctly because of a manufacturing defect in the propellant used in the airbag inflator, the companies said. As a result, there is a risk of fires starting or of passengers being injured.

Takata said it learned of the problem in October 2011, and that it has since been investigating. Once the cause was determined, the supplier alerted customers, who decided on the recall.

Toyota, Honda and Nissan said there were no reports of injuries or deaths because of the defective airbags.

Honda said it became aware of the issue after a crash in Puerto Rico in October 2011 in which a passenger front airbag deployed with too much pressure and caused the inflator casing to rupture.

Takata was alerted about the accident and the car was eventually shipped to the United States for study, a Honda spokesman said.

In July and August 2012 in Japan, at scrap yards where airbags were being recycled, officials noted that airbags in some Honda vehicles deployed “strangely,” adding to the probe, the spokesman said.

OTHER BRANDS TOO?

Some non-Japanese carmakers were also supplied with the faulty airbags, Takata spokesman Toyohiro Hishikawa said, although he declined to name them.

General Motors said Takata is a supplier, but that the problem affected only about 55 000 Toyota-based Pontiac Vibe cars from model year 2003 built for the US and Canadian markets. BMW has an undetermined number of vehicles affected by the recall, a U.S. spokesman for Takata said.

Officials with Chrysler, Daimler, Ford, PSA Peugeot Citroen , Renault SA and Volkswagen AG said they were not affected because they did not use the airbags covered by the recall.

GLOBALISATION IS RISKY

The scale of the recent safety actions underscores the risk of huge global supply chain problems as car companies increasingly rely on a handful of suppliers for common or similar parts to cut costs, analysts have said.

-IOL & Reuters