Mounting pressure from safety regulators has pushed Ford Motors to issue a nationwide recall for its vehicles using defective driver's side Takata airbags that are known to explode and cause metal shrapnel flying all over the cabin.
The recall adds another 447,000 vehicles to Ford's recall list, up from the 55,000 vehicles previously recalled in regional areas, including Hawaii, Puerto Rico and places spanning the Gulf Coast.
All in all, Ford has recalled a total of 538,977 vehicles, including vehicles with defective passenger's airbags, with some 462,000 located in the United States and the rest scattered all over Canada, Mexico and outside North America. The recall affects Ford's older Mustangs from model years 2005 to 2008 and the high-end luxury GT sports cars from 2005 to 2006.
The faulty driver-side Takata airbags have led to a global recall of millions of vehicles from 10 auto manufacturers around the world. More than 15 million of these vehicles are located in the U.S.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says the inflator propellant can burn faster if exposed to airborne moisture, causing the metal canister that contains airbag explosions to explode and send pieces of sharp metal at the driver's face and neck.
At least five deaths and multiple injuries have been linked to the defective driver-side airbags. Ford says it is aware of at least one injury possibly related to the problematic airbags.
Japanese automakers Honda and Mazda have also acceded to the NHTSA's request, leaving BMW AG and Chrysler the only companies that have not expanded their recalls of vehicles equipped with the defective airbags on the driver's side.
Japanese airbag maker Takata has also refused to comply with the regulator's request, saying no evidence points to a need to recall vehicles beyond those located in high-humidity areas, although the company continues to test its airbags. So far, the NHTSA has not yet issued a request to make a nationwide recall for defective airbags on the passenger's side.
The agency has previously said that it is looking into initiating a formal process to persuade Takata to issue a nationwide recall, a process that can potentially involve litigation if Takata refuses to comply. However, the agency has not explicitly mentioned a similar process involving automakers.
"Chrysler, BMW and Takata have failed to take the same action and, if necessary, we are prepared to force them to do so in the interest of public safety," says the NHTSA in a statement.
BMW spokesperson Dave Buchko says the company is currently "evaluating the situation," pointing to hints that it could issue a nationwide recall later. For now, however, the manufacturer says it is in the process of recalling affected vehicles in high-humidity areas.