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Auto industry acts globally--except on recalls

DETROIT - When it comes to making and selling cars, the auto industry thinks and acts globally: There is near-seamless coordination between parts suppliers, factories and dealerships. But when an unsafe car needs to be recalled, that global coordination breaks down -- in part because governments do not demand it.

There are no international standards for determining what's unsafe and should be recalled, or how car owners should be notified. The consequences can sometimes be deadly.

Six years ago, Honda began recalling driver's side air bags in the U.S. The air bags, made by Japanese supplier Takata Corp. at a now-shuttered plant in Georgia, can inflate with too much force, spewing shrapnel into the vehicle.

But it wasn't until November of this year -- after the death of a driver in Malaysia -- that Honda recalled driver's side air bags in small cars sold in Europe and Asia, even though the air bags were made at the same time in the same Georgia factory.

Governments are the safety watchdogs, but regulations vary widely and there's little cooperation between nations. Automakers, for the most part, get to decide when and where their cars will be fixed.

CARS ARE GLOBAL

Cars and car parts are now made to be sold and used almost anywhere in the world. The compact Ford Focus is designed to be sold globally, with only minor tweaks to satisfy local tastes and regulations. It's made in nine different factories.

Almost all the major automakers use air bags from Takata, which has 56 plants in 20 countries. The Japanese company makes around 22 percent of the world's air bags, according to Valient Automotive Market Research. Sharing common parts saves money, but some experts question whether the rush to go global compromised safety.

Federal regulators are calling for a broader recall of vehicles whose front, driver side airbags were made by Japan's Takata Corporation. Jeff Gl...

Auto analyst and engineer Tadashi Tateuchi says he believes that's what happened with Takata and Honda, which is Takata's biggest customer. Honda responds that the air bags sold in the U.S. were different, and more advanced, than those involved in the Malaysia crash. Even though they both ruptured, determining the underlying cause took time.

THE SAFETY GAMUT

Despite decades of talk, at the United Nations and elsewhere, little progress has been made getting governments to harmonize safety standards. In Europe and Japan, cars are rigorously tested before they go on sale. In the U.S., automakers self-certify and cars are tested only after they go on sale. In Mexico and India, cars don't have to meet any government safety standards at all.

Likewise, countries differ on how to treat a problem. The U.S. requires automakers to report a safety defect within five days of its discovery, even if the cause hasn't been determined. Other countries, like Colombia, want automakers to have a fix in place before they report a recall.

More details on: cbsnews.com


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