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Nissan, Toyota recall 6.5 million vehicles with Takata airbags

Toyota and Nissan are recalling more than 6.5 million vehicles. It’s the latest chapter of an exploding airbag epidemic linked to at least five deaths.

On Wednesday, Toyota and Nissan announced the recall of more than 6.5 million automobiles worldwide. Known for their potential to explode and shower passengers or drivers with debris and shrapnel, airbags made by the Takata company will be replaced, the two Japanese automakers have announced.

With Takata facing lawsuits and regulatory probes, representatives have acknowledged that the company's defective product has taken a toll on its financial results, but officials nevertheless expect to eke out a net profit of 20 billion yen (150 million euros/$165 million) in the current business year. "At this point it is difficult to rationally estimate the financial impact of the lawsuits," the company announced last Friday.

Toyota, the world's largest automaker, is recalling 5 million vehicles manufactured between March 2003 and November 2007. The 35 models include the Corolla and Vitz. Nissan, which is recalling more than 1.55 million vehicles, has previously recommended taking selected Infinitis and Sentras off the road.

Showered with shrapnel

Though it is not known for sure why Takata airbags are prone to exploding and potentially showering passengers and drivers with shrapnel from the canisters holding them, some suspect the ammonium nitrate used to inflate them. The unstable gas compound can overheat, especially in high humidity. Since 2008, at least 10 automakers - including Honda (pictured), GM and Germany's BMW - have recalled more than 20 million vehicles because of the risk that the airbags could rupture, potentially firing deadly shrapnel at the occupants.

More than 30 million vehicles in the United States alone could have the Takata airbags installed. Last year, Takata declined a US request to recall its airbags across the United States, with officials claiming that they only posed a threat in high-humidity areas.

Dozens of people have been injured and at least five have died. In the US state of Louisiana in March, for one example, a woman reportedly suffered burns, cuts and hearing problems when the Takata-made passenger airbag in a 2006 Nissan Sentra exploded after a minor crash, spewing metal and shrapnel.

Takata began in 1933 as a textile company and evolved into an automotive parts giant that started selling airbags in the 1980s. The company has dozens of plants and offices in 20 countries, including the United States, China and Mexico.

mkg/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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