TOKYO/DETROIT (Reuters) - Honda Motor Co said it would recall another 440,000 cars around the world for faulty airbags as rival Toyota Motor Corp faced further probes over its largest-ever safety crisis.
Honda, Japan’s No. 2 automaker, has now recalled close to 950,000 vehicles for airbag problems linked to one fatality and a total of 11 injuries in the United States.
While auto recalls are not uncommon and Honda’s is not huge, it comes at a sensitive time for an industry struggling to draw customers back to showrooms after a brutal downturn.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda will come to the United States in early March to meet government officials and to visit the carmaker’s local operations, delaying a trip initially scheduled for next week due to the heavy snowfall in Washington, the Nikkei newspaper reported.
A Republican lawmaker, U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, has invited Toyoda to meet with members of Congress the week of February 22. He is also urging the House Oversight Committee chairman to invite Toyoda to a February 24 hearing. A Toyota representative could not immediately be reached for comment.
Toyoda’s U.S. visit comes as the world’s biggest automaker faces a storm of criticism over safety issues and perceptions that the carmaker has been too slow to respond.
Toyota has up to 70,000 vehicles still stranded on U.S. dealer lots due to defective accelerator pedals that are the subject of a major safety recall, a top U.S. Toyota executive said on Wednesday.
Bob Carter, Toyota’s U.S. sales chief, said all Toyota U.S. dealers have parts to repair the accelerator pedals and that the dealers were focused on fixing customers’ cars before tackling the vehicles in the inventory.
Toyota U.S. dealers are repairing more than 52,000 gas pedals per day and have completed work on about 225,000 since they started late last week, Carter said.
COROLLA STEERING PROBLEMS
In the latest of a string of product problems for Toyota, U.S. regulators said they were reviewing dozens of complaints about potential steering problems in newer Toyota Corollas.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it was discussing the matter with Toyota to see if a formal investigation was warranted, a standard procedure when reviewing complaints.
Toyota will stop production of its Lexus HS250h and Sai hybrids in Japan from Saturday through February 20 as it modifies the production process to fix braking problems in the vehicles, a company spokeswoman said.
The move comes a day after Toyota expanded its recall to include more than 400,000 of its latest Prius and other new hybrid models due to insufficient braking. It also recalled more than 7,300 late-model Camrys in the United States for a separate braking issue.
That comes on top of 8.1 million vehicles recalled since September for problems with slipping floormats and sticking accelerator pedals that have been linked to crashes that killed at least 19 people.
In a bid to prevent the crisis from damaging U.S.-Japanese relations, Japan’s transport minister, Seiji Maehara, met U.S. ambassador John Roos on Wednesday.
“I believe we should not let this problem hurt the bilateral relationship and free and fair market activities,” Maehara told reporters after the meeting.
Roos added, “I emphasized to him that this is a safety issue and I very much appreciate how the minister, the ministry as well as Toyota are on top of this issue.”
“I just want to emphasize it in no way has direct or indirect impact on the strength of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Japan,” he added.
STORM BREWING IN WASHINGTON
A U.S. congressional committee postponed a hearing scheduled for Wednesday to examine the recalls and Toyota’s response, as a snowstorm hit Washington.
Toyota faces potential litigation over the crashes linked to the problem of unintended acceleration as well as class-action lawsuits over the brake problems with the Prius.
The cost of buying protection on Toyota’s debt hit a seven-month high this week as its recall woes widened, but its borrowing costs are not expected to jump.
Honda Chief Financial Officer Yoichi Hojo told Reuters the recall of 437,763 vehicles would cost 2 billion to 3 billion yen ($22.2 million to $33.3 million).
That comes on top of a recall announced in November 2008 for 4,200 Accord and Civic sedans due to faulty airbag inflators, and expanded last June to cover an additional 510,000 vehicles globally.
The faulty inflators could produce too much pressure and risk rupturing their casings, sending shards toward the driver in an accident.
The airbags are made by the U.S. unit of Japan’s Takata Corp, a Honda spokesman said. A spokesman at the supplier said the company was not aware of any defect in airbags it supplies to other automakers.
Hojo said Honda would ask Takata for compensation of some sort and to improve its production line, as the fault originated in the manufacturing process, not the design approved by Honda.
The latest recall applies to 2001 and 2002 models of the Accord, Civic, Odyssey, CR-V, Pilot and 2002 Acura TL and CL vehicles in the United States, as well as the Inspire, Saber and Lagreat in Japan. All vehicles are made at Honda’s U.S. and Canadian plants.
Last month, Honda announced a global recall of about 646,000 cars for a fault with a window switch.
Additional reporting by Yumiko Nishitani and Taiga Uranaka in TOKYO; David Bailey and Bernie Woodall in DETROIT; John Crawley in WASHINGTON and Helen Massy-Beresford in PARIS; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Jean Yoon, Will Waterman and Matthew Lewis
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