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Business

Japan's auto industry seeks alternatives to Takata

Honda, Toyota, suppliers look to cut reliance on embattled air bag maker

TOKYO -- Amid reports that Takata may file for bankruptcy protection in the scandal over its deadly air bags, Japan's automakers are ditching the company's products while key suppliers worry how this trend could impact their own businesses.

Honda Motor is recalling 51 million Takata air bag inflators used in its cars. But while the automaker has collected 85.3% of the defective devices in the Japanese market, only 59.2% of those in the U.S. have been retrieved. Because American safety inspections tend to be more relaxed, Honda instead is using detectives to track down the relevant cars that have been resold as well as buying used parts itself.

Honda also is notifying customers in Japan about the recall through dealerships. The automaker has not used Takata inflators in its newer models, and will reduce its business with Takata.

The inflator problem apparently stems from the lack of a drying agent. Toyota Motor is replacing the affected parts with other Takata products that use a desiccant, or with comparable items from a different manufacturer.

Takata works with about 570 companies, according to Teikoku Databank. Many of its direct suppliers in Shiga Prefecture, where Takata was founded, worry about how the scandal will affect their operations.

"About 20% of our sales come from Takata," said the head of Kern-Liebers' Japan unit, which makes springs used in seat belts. "We can't find new clients that quickly."

A local welfare group that provides jobs for people with disabilities earns half its income by assembling seat belts for Takata. "This affects the lives of our workers," the group's chief said. "How are we supposed to maintain our income?"

Autoparts maker Heian Manufacturing did about 20 million yen ($180,000) in monthly business with Takata a decade ago, but that figure has since fallen to hundreds of thousands of yen.

(Nikkei)

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