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Takata airbag recall involves millions of vehicles in Canada

05/20/2015 12:59 EDT | Updated 05/20/2016 05:59 EDT
Several million vehicles in Canada could be affected by a widening recall of Takata airbags, but finding an exact number of how many is next to impossible in part because of byzantine regulations and a lack of clarity from the regulator that's supposed to cover such issues in Canada.

That's not the case in the U.S.

On Tuesday, the recall of airbags from Japanese car part manufacturer Takata was widened to include almost 34 million vehicles across the U.S. because the components can burst when inflating, possibly covering vehicle occupants with dangerous shrapnel.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is aware of more than 100 injuries and six deaths in relation to the faulty components. It's believed the issue is related to humidity, but even that is as of yet unclear.

The story first came to light last year before expanding multiple times, as a results of the NHTSA working with Takata and the automakers for action. As of Tuesday, the recall covers almost one out of every seven cars in America, and includes vehicles from 11 companies that sell cars in the U.S. The NHTSA has fined Takata $14,000 a day since February for refusing to co-operate with its investigation in the U.S.

But the picture in Canada is nowhere near as clear. That's partly because unlike U.S. regulators that have the ability to mandate recalls, Transport Canada relies on voluntary actions from automakers. 

"In Canada, vehicle manufacturers are responsible for carrying out notice of defect [recall] campaigns and must notify Transport Canada when they become aware of safety defects," a spokesman with the agency told CBC News in an emailed statement. 

The agency also says it hasn't changed its recall database as a results of Tuesday's action in the U.S. "To date, we have not received notice of any recall expansions," the spokesman said. "Transport Canada has received no complaints related to this issue from Canadians, and is not aware of any incidents having taken place in Canada."

But that doesn't mean no vehicles in Canada have been recalled in relation to the possibly faulty parts. They just aren't easily accessible on Transport Canada's database, which is searchable by company (not component maker) and doesn't necessarily list when any given faulty component would be a factor.

A recall notice on the database from December says that Toyota Canada has recalled 14,570 RAV4 SUVs for faulty airbags. But the notice has no mention they are Takata components. A subsequent news release from Toyota Canada, however, confirms that the recall is in fact related to Takata components. 

Based on a CBC analysis of recall notices on the regulator's database, there's at least 1.3 million Canadian cars affected. That includes:

- 90,245 Nissan vehicles.

- 18,979 Toyotas.

- 96,000 Mazdas.

- 873,738 Hondas.

- 259,600 Chryslers.

- 11,131 BMWs.

- 27,523 Fords.

- 1,112 Subarus.

There may be more. But coming up with an exact number is a rather Herculean task. The car companies themselves on Wednesday said they are looking into it, but have nothing to report as of yet in terms of updated Canadian numbers. 

As of last year, Honda said it had recalled more than 700,000 vehicles in Canada because of the issue.

"Honda is currently reviewing the information released today to determine what new actions may be required to further ensure the safety of our customers in North America," a spokesperson with the company told CBC News Wednesday. "To date, Honda is not aware of any reported claims of injuries or deaths in Canada relating to a ruptured airbag inflator of any Takata produced airbag in a Honda or Acura vehicle."

Toyota tells a similar tune. "Our response to the NHTSA release of late yesterday is 'Toyota's focus remains on the safety and security of our customers. Toyota is currently evaluating NHTSA's industry-wide announcement.'," a spokesperson with the company said when asked by CBC News for an updated list of the number of Toyotas recalled in Canada related to Takata airbags. "For a full list of the Takata recalls we've undertaken in Canada, pls visit www.media.toyota.ca."

For its part, Nissan said "Nissan is currently reviewing the necessary details in these reports and will have additional information available after it has appropriately analyzed the information from Takata and conferred with NHTSA."

One prominent consumer advocate says a murky recall process has long been a problem in Canada.

"You should be worried," consumer advocate and former MP Phil Edmonston says. "You should be concerned that in Canada, Transport Canada has taken a backseat to the Americans … as far as recalls because there's more resources, they feel, in the United States to get the car companies to comply with safety regulations."

Other U.S. watchers of the story say Takata's action is long overdue.

"While it's taken far too long, Takata finally seems to be owning up to the air bag crisis that has plagued vehicles of all shapes and sizes," Kelley Blue Book analyst Akshay Anand told Reuters "A recall of this size is unprecedented in any industry."

U.S. lawmakers, who had pushed for a broader recall, welcomed the news.

"Folks shouldn't have to drive around wondering if their air bag is going to explode in their face," Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson told Reuters. "Let's hope Takata's admissions today tell us the whole story."

Takata faces multiple class actions in the United States and Canada as well as a U.S. criminal investigation and a regulatory probe. Tuesday's announcement will "tremendously bolster our claims," said Peter Prieto of law firm Podhurst Orseck, who leads the group of plaintiffs' lawyers appointed to oversee the U.S. cases. Those cases have been consolidated in Federal Court in Miami.

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