WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Under pressure from U.S. regulators, Japanese air bag manufacturer Takata Corp 7312.T is expected to announce as early as Wednesday that it is recalling 35 million to 40 million additional inflators in U.S. vehicles, three sources briefed on the matter said on Tuesday.
The expanded recall will be phased in over several years and more than double what is already the largest and most complex auto safety recall in U.S. history. The new recall will cover all frontal air bag inflators without a drying agent, sources briefed on the matter said.
To date, 14 automakers, led by Honda Motor Co (7267.T), have recalled 24 million U.S. vehicles with 28.8 million inflators due to the risk that they can explode with too much force and spray metal shards inside vehicles.
In recent days, officials from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) told Takata they need to expand the recall based on the government’s determination of the root cause of the problems, sources briefed on the matter said.
NHTSA spokesman Bryan Thomas declined to confirm the expanded recall. “NHTSA has reviewed the findings of three separate investigations into the Takata air bag ruptures. The recall of Takata air bag inflators... continues and the agency will take all appropriate actions to make sure air bags in Americans’ vehicles are safe.”
The new recall is expected to include about 35 million passenger-side air bags and some driver-side air bags without a drying agent. It is also expected to include some air bags that were previously replaced that did not have a drying agent.
Takata spokesman Jared Levy declined to confirm the expansion, but said the company is “working with regulators and our automaker customers to develop long-term, orderly solutions to these important safety issues.”
Last month, NHTSA said there were about 85 million unrecalled Takata air bag inflators in U.S. vehicles that would need to be recalled by 2019 unless the company can prove they are safe.
The recall expansion, earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal, leaves open the question of whether about 50 million inflators - including 18 million side inflators and about 32 million frontal and side airbags with drying agents - will eventually need to be recalled.
At least 11 people have been killed worldwide in incidents linked to defective Takata inflators. The latest was the March 31 death of a 17-year-old driver in Texas.
Under an agreement signed last year, the company has until 2019 to demonstrate that all of its unrecalled air bag inflators are safe.
The prospect of ballooning recall costs has prompted Takata to look for a financial backer.
Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler; Editing by Dan Grebler