TOKYO -- As automakers plead with U.S. customers to fix potentially deadly Takata airbags, recalls in Japan are drawing much stronger responses, with more than two-thirds of the total already repaired.
About 3.05 million vehicles have been recalled in Japan to replace potentially defective inflators that can cause the airbag to explode, showering a vehicle cabin with metal shards.
But by the end of February, 2.13 million of those vehicles had already been remedied, Japan’s Nikkei business daily reported.
That equates to a repair rate of 70 percent.
Compare that with the lackadaisical response in the United States.
Some 17 million vehicles have been recalled there by 10 automakers. But by late February, just less than 2 million had been fixed -- or barely 12 percent of the U.S. total.
The slow U.S. uptake prompted Honda Motor Co. this month to launch an unprecedented publicity campaign, beseeching owners to take action. Full-page ads will run in more than 120 newspapers, and 30-second radio spots will air in more than 110 regional markets. Honda will also reach out through social media.
The disparity underscores the differences in laws and attitudes that sometimes help recalls work better in Japan.
Japan's notoriously fastidious consumers tend to be more responsive to recalls. And there are fewer old vehicles on Japanese roads than in the U.S. The average age of cars on the road here is eight years, compared with 11 in the U.S.
Japan's onerous safety and emission inspections keep a tight leash on owners, which helps keep records up to date. The inspections also serve as tripwires to alert owners of recalls.
And Japanese customers don't buy as many used cars as their American counterparts. This makes it easier for manufacturers to reach owners because cars don't trade hands as often.
Fumihiko Ike, chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association as well as chair of Honda, acknowledged the challenge at a Tokyo press conference this week.
“Used cars changing hands repeatedly cannot be reached even if we issue recalls, and this is the biggest problem. Particularly ones over 10 years old; the American used car market is huge,” Ike said in his capacity as the head of JAMA.
Added Ike: “It's not that easy to replace them.”