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Subaru recalls 2.2m autos for faulty brake lights

Latest move shows quality problems persist at Japanese carmaker

Subaru halted production at its only Japanese auto plant, in Gunma Prefecture, over quality issues starting the evening of Jan.16. Not until Jan. 28 did Subaru announce a resumption. (Photo by Naoki Tsukamoto)

TOKYO -- Subaru announced Thursday the recall of 2.26 million vehicles around the world over a brake lamp defect, its largest recall yet and more than double its annual unit sales.

The move affects a total of 306,728 units of Forester sport utility vehicles and Impreza cars built between Sept. 19, 2008, and March 29, 2017, as well as 1,962,113 units overseas.

The problem is with the brake lamp switch, which is activated when the driver depresses the brake pedal. Chemicals from products such as cleaning solutions and cosmetics can make their way into the switch, leading to problems turning on the engine. In Japan, around 1,400 cases have been reported on the issue.

Subaru has set aside around 10 billion yen ($89 million) for the recall but expects to absorb the outlays via such steps as cost-cutting, as well as strong performance in its largest market of North America.

Subaru on Feb. 7 cut its net profit forecast to 140 billion for the year ending March 31 -- down 36% from the prior year and 27 billion yen below the previous projection -- and does not expect to revise it further.

But Subaru's quality issues are deeply rooted. The company admitted in 2017 that unqualified workers had carried out final vehicle inspections, and more inspection woes surfaced last year. It has recalled a total of 530,000 units over faulty inspections in Japan.

This past November, Subaru filed to recall 410,000 vehicles globally over faulty engine parts.

The problems have continued this year. Issues with electronic power steering units forced the company to halt its sole domestic auto plant -- in Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo -- for 10 days starting in mid-January.

Even swallowing the recall costs, whether the company can retain customers in North America is another question. Never before has it recalled so many vehicles there.

Auto recalls in recent years have tended to affect large volumes of vehicles, partly a result of moves in the 2000s to standardize parts and consolidate purchasing operations. Multiple models can share a single defective component, as with the Subaru brake light part.

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