Government Set to Recall Millions of Vehicles With Takata Seat Belts
May. 22, 1995
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Transportation Department plans to recall Japanese-made seat belts on millions of cars sold from 1986 through 1991 because of concerns the buckles sometimes fail to latch or unlatch, government sources said.
Eleven automakers _ eight Japanese and the U.S. Big Three _ have 8.77 million vehicles with the Takata Corp. seat belts for those years. But government sources told The Associated Press on Sunday that not all the car companies had signed on to a final agreement.
The department's traffic safety arm, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, tentatively scheduled a news conference for Tuesday to announce the safety recall, which would be one of the largest in history.
The companies with the belts are: American Honda Motor Co. Inc., Nissan North America Inc., Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc., Mazda Motor of America Inc.; American Suzuki Motor Corp., Isuzu Motors America Inc., Subaru of America Inc., Daihatsu Motor Co., General Motors Corp., Chrysler Corp. and Ford Motor Co.
The Detroit News reported in Sunday's editions that eight companies have already agreed to the recall and the other three were expected to agree today. The News did not identify which companies had not yet agreed.
At least 63 injuries _ but no deaths _ have been reported from accidents where the belts were used, according to NHTSA documents.
There have been more than 700 complaints that the Takata belts jammed or failed to lock or unlock. Some consumers indicated the orange plastic piece of the belt button had chipped off and fallen into the buckle, jamming it.
Honda has sold an estimated 3.7 million cars with the belts in the United States and has received 200 of the customer complaints, according to NHTSA records. Nissan has sold some 2.01 million; Mitsubishi, 699,181; Mazda 360,433; Suzuki 115,874; Subaru 101,005; Isuzu, 89,902; Daihatsu, 7,514; Chrysler 951,040; General Motors 466,902; and Ford 265,000, according to NHTSA documents.
The list of makes includes some of the companies' most popular vehicles, including the Honda Civic, Accords and Acura; Nissan Infiniti; Mitsubishi Eclipse; and Mazda MX-6 and 323.
The agency has been investigating the belts since October. Automakers supplied by Takata have reported thousands of warranty claims for seat belt repairs or replacements.
NHTSA, the companies and Takata have declined to discuss the cost of a recall. The Detroit News estimated it could exceed $1 billion. The companies and Takata also refused to discuss who would pay for the replacements.
According to the complaint information filed by customers, replacement of the belt assembly has ranged from less than $100 to hundreds of dollars.
Telephones were not answered Sunday at most of the car companies. Nissan, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler spokesmen declined on Sunday to discuss the specifics of any negotiations with NHTSA.
Takata Corp. denied that there was a problem but promised to cooperate with any recall or voluntary campaign by automakers to replace the belts.
``We don't think there is any safety problem with our seat belts,'' said company spokesman Masanobu Nagai. ``This is not a defective product.''
Honda had been talking with NHTSA about fixing the belts voluntarily in a service campaign in which the companies would notify car owners with the Takata belts to bring them in for repair. The campaign would have allowed the companies to avoid publicly acknowledging a vehicle defect that could affect safety.
Takata has said the buckle's release button has been strengthened by changing the materials used and the button's design.
Some Takata officials believe the tendency of the release buttons to crack after several years could be due to faults in the plastic.
The plastic's resin was supplied by Japan Synthetic Rubber Co. of Tokyo, Japan's largest manufacturer of rubber products, although some additives came from other companies.
NHTSA is looking into the composition of the plastic buckle.
Honda spokesman Yoichi Harada acknowledged that ``under certain circumstances, the product quality was not sufficient.''
Harada, contacted in Japan, said if the buttons had extended exposure to sunlight, they could become brittle and break during cold weather if strong force is applied in fastening the buckle while there is some foreign object inside, such as pet hair or other debris.
The same belt buckles also are used in Japan, but the button-cracking problem does not seem to be occurring, according to the Transportation Ministry, which is looking into the matter.
A ministry official who asked not to be named said that an official finding has not yet been reached, but a possible explanation was that Japan's climate does not have kinds of wide differences in temperature as found in the United States, which appear to cause the plastic to weaken.