TOKYO -- Honda Motor Co. is adding 437,000 vehicles to its 15-month-old global recall for faulty air bags in the latest quality problem to hit a Japanese automaker.
The company will replace the driver's side air bag inflator in the cars because they can deploy with too much pressure, causing the inflator to rupture and injure or kill the driver.
Japan's No. 2 automaker originally announced the recall to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in November 2008 and the total of number vehicles recalled since then is approaching 1 million.
The latest expansion of the air bag recall includes 378,000 cars in the U.S., some 41,000 cars in Canada and 17,000 cars in Japan, Australia and elsewhere in Asia. The North American recall was announced Tuesday and followed Wednesday by the recall in Asia.
The recall now affects 952,118 vehicles, including certain 2001 and 2002 Accord sedans, Civic compacts, Odyssey minivans, CR-V small sport utility vehicles and some 2002 Acura TL sedans.
Honda's announcement comes at a time of increased attention on automotive recalls. Though the problems are unrelated, rival Toyota Motor Corp. is in the process of recalling more than 8 million cars and trucks due to faulty gas pedals. On Tuesday, Toyota said it would recall nearly 440,000 of its flagship 2010 Prius and other hybrids due to a braking glitch.
"There is a heightened sensitivity right now to anything to do with recalls," said John Mendel, executive vice president of sales for American Honda.
Honda said it is aware of 12 incidents linked to the problem - one death in May 2009 and 11 injuries. The company said it is not aware of any problems happening after July 2009.
Honda decided to expand the recall after a company investigation found that more cars might contain defective air bag inflators, made by supplier Takata Corp., based in Tokyo.
The problem, the company found, could be traced to a stamping machine that sometimes used insufficient pressure to make the inflators. Honda company decided to recall all vehicles using the compressed inflator propellant produced by that machine, it said in a release.
"It took time to come to that conclusion because we had to do many tests," said Natsuno Asanuma, a manager of public relations at Honda in Tokyo. "We have concluded this is the cause."
One analyst suggested Toyota's woes may have lowered the bar for recalls, prompting automakers to announce full-fledged recalls for problems that would normally be handled during regular car inspections or service campaigns calling in cars at the owner's convenience.
"With Toyota's big problems, Honda probably realized it couldn't avoid a recall in these other models," said Toshirou Yoshinaga, an analyst at Aizawa Securities in Tokyo.
But Honda's Asanuma denied Toyota's problems had any impact on Honda's actions, while acknowledging increased consumer sensitivity to safety issues.
"We are following the normal procedure, so it doesn't mean customers' feelings changed our attitude," she said. "There are strict regulations regarding recalls."
Honda's latest U.S. air bag recall affects certain 2001 and 2002 Accord sedans, Civic compacts, Odyssey minivans, CR-V small sport utility vehicles and some 2002 Acura TL sedans.
In Japan, the recall covers three models produced in 2001 and 2002, including the Inspire, Saber, Lagreat.
The automaker's original announcement to NHTSA in November 2008 involved fewer than 4,000 2001 Accords and Civics. The recall was expanded in July of 2009 to 440,000 vehicles including the 2001 and 2002 Accord and Civic, as well as certain 2002 Acura TL sedans.
Honda says owners should take their vehicles to dealerships as soon as they are notified by the company in writing. Notification will begin during the month of February.
Last month Honda recalled 646,000 Fit hatchbacks worldwide because of a glitch that could cause water to enter the power window mechanism, causing components to overheat.
The Fit recall affects 2007-2008 models. The Fit is sold in other countries as the Jazz and City. The recall affects Asia, Latin America, Europe, South Africa and North America. About 140,000 vehicles are affected in the U.S.