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New Takata air bag recall to cover five million U.S. vehicles

(Reuters) - U.S. regulators on Friday announced a new recall of about 5 million vehicles with potentially defective Takata Corp air bags, covering some automakers not previously affected by one of the biggest auto safety recalls in U.S. history.

Visitors walk behind a logo of Takata Corp on its display at a showroom for vehicles in Tokyo, Japan, November 6, 2015. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

The new action brings to 28 million the number of Takata air bag inflators recalled and increases the number of vehicles affected in the United States to as many as 24 million, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said.

Friday’s move was prompted in part by the death of the driver of a Ford Motor Co Ranger pickup truck last month, as well as new tests conducted on suspected faulty air bags.

Automakers affected for the first time include Volkswagen AG VOWG_p.DE and its Audi unit, Daimler's Mercedes-Benz unit and Saab. Other automakers taking part in the recall announced Friday include Ford, Honda Motor Co Mazda Motor Corp and BMW AG.

“This is a massive safety crisis,” NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge told reporters.

The Dec. 22 death of a Georgia man in South Carolina was the 10th worldwide linked with Takata’s air bag inflators, NHTSA said. It was the ninth in the United States and first to occur in a vehicle that was not made by Honda.

The 5 million vehicles covered by the new recalls for inflators in driver-side air bags include about 1 million with inflators similar to those installed on the Ford Ranger, NHTSA said.

Honda recalled vehicles around the world with the same inflators used in the Ford Ranger after the death of a pregnant woman in Malaysia in 2014, while Ford conducted a limited recall for some passenger side air bags. NHTSA said 1,900 U.S. tests of those inflators have not resulted in any ruptures.

Trowbridge said last month’s death caused a reassessment that required “immediate action.”

About 4 million other vehicles will be recalled due to additional testing on Takata driver-side air bags, including vehicles from Honda and VW, NHTSA said.

NHTSA in November said tens of millions of additional vehicles with inflators containing ammonium nitrate propellant will be recalled by 2018, unless Takata can prove that they are safe.

Erik Gordon, a University of Michigan business professor, said the expanding recall “sheds light on the risks of having a supplier be the source for so many cars across so many companies.”

Because of the issue, NHTSA may need to impose testing standards for common components, Gordon said.

Twelve major automakers have previously recalled more than 23 million Takata air bag inflators in more than 19 million vehicles in one of the largest and most complex safety recalls ever.

NHTSA could not say how many vehicles recalled on Friday may have been covered by previous recalls, including many with potentially defective passenger-side air bags.

Takata’s inflators can explode with too much force and spray metal shrapnel into vehicle passenger compartments and are linked to more than 100 U.S. injuries.

In November, Takata agreed to pay a $70 million fine for safety violations and could face deferred penalties of up to $130 million under a NHTSA settlement. The embattled Japanese supplier faces ongoing U.S. criminal investigation.

NHTSA in December named a former Justice Department official as a monitor to help regulators oversee the massive recalls.

The Ford Ranger air bag-related death was the first reported since the July crash of a 2001 Honda Accord coupe that killed a 13-year-old driver near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Editing by Tom Brown