Takata shares drop on report of US air bag probe



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14/10/31  Tokyo - Shares in Japanese auto parts maker Takata sank 5.57 percent Thursday morning following that US justice officials are investigating the firm over an air bag defect that may have killed several drivers. The firm fell to 1,592 yen ($15) by the break in Tokyo, after plunging 22 percent on Tuesday following an earlier air bag safety warning. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that federal prosecutors in New York are probing whether Takata made misleading statements about the safety of its bags to US regulators. According to the New York Times, at least 139 injuries have been linked to Takata air bags, including 37 reported as exploding. Those include, according to the Times, three people killed in Takata-equipped Hondas. The reports came as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the US auto safety regulator, on Wednesday expanded its "urgent" warning to owners of cars with Takata air bags to take them to dealers to fix the problem. The recalls affect 7.8 million vehicles, up from 4.7 million vehicles covered in a warning bulletin issued. Vehicles are being recalled because of the risk that an air bag could improperly inflate and rupture, potentially firing shrapnel at the occupants.

Investigators suspect that the air bags have a higher risk of rupturing in cars operated in areas with high humidity. The Journal, quoting a person familiar with the matter, said the prosecutors probe was at a preliminary stage and could end with no charges being filed.

A Tokyo-based spokesman for Takata, one of the world s biggest air bag makers with more than 43,000 employees worldwide, said its Japanese office had not been contacted by US officials, adding that it was checking on the media reports. "Takata is taking this issue extremely seriously, and will cooperate fully with the NHTSA and the vehicle manufacturers conducting repairs," it said in a statement on Wednesday. A second statement issued Thursday in response to the widening recalls said costs linked to the problem "are expected to be very limited". "Details regarding this issue are currently being verified, and will be disclosed promptly following confirmation," it said.