• Reuters, Kyodo, Bloomberg

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Honda Motor Co. said it will expand its recall worldwide to replace potentially lethal Takata Corp. air bag inflators, taking the total number of vehicles affected to more than 19 million since 2008.

The move comes as the carmaker steps up efforts to contain the fallout over faulty Takata air bag inflators, which have been linked to several deaths in the United States and Malaysia.

The carmaker has already issued a recall in parts of the U.S.

Also Tuesday, the Japanese government said it will allow Honda to implement Japan’s first ever “investigative” recall, where there is no legal requirement for carmakers to recall products before the cause of problems is identified.

Honda is planning to widen recalls globally following an expansion of its safety campaigns in the U.S. of driver-side air bags, Atsushi Ohara, a company spokesman, said Monday.

Takata’s defective air bags are suspected of killing five people after deploying with too much force and spewing metal shrapnel.

Honda last week told a U.S. congressional hearing it will expand the investigative recall that was previously limited to 11 states and territories with hot and humid climates in the United States to the rest of the country, in response to a demand from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The move would bring the total number of cars to be recalled in the U.S. to 5.4 million from the previous 2.8 million.

Ten Honda models, produced between 2001 and 2011, are subject to the expanded recall in the U.S., a crucial market for Honda. These include the 2001-2007 Accord sedan, the 2001-2005 Civic sedan and the 2003-2006 Acura MDX luxury SUV.

The action in Japan will affect about 135,000 vehicles, but Honda has yet to specify which models are involved and when it will start replacing possibly defective parts.

The transport ministry said Honda informed it on Tuesday of its plans. In all, about 200,000 vehicles from Honda and Mazda Motor Corp. will potentially be involved, the ministry said, but Mazda is still considering whether to join the recall.

Unlike NHTSA, Japan’s regulator cannot order a recall unless the cause of the problem is known. Transport minister Akihiro Ota said the ministry will examine changing the law to be able to force an investigative recall after gauging the current series of Takata-related recalls. But he also said there are no immediate plans to do so.

“This is a vital issue,” Ota said. “If we wait until the problem’s cause is identified, then it will take time. So we determined that it is necessary to call back all the vehicles in the so-called investigative recall.”

Meanwhile, Honda is working out which models in other markets the global recall will involve, a spokeswoman said.

Last week, Toyota said it was recalling an additional 185,093 vehicles in Japan but had yet to count the figure abroad.

Cars equipped with Takata air bags have been recalled since 2008, and an expansion in the campaign has received much publicity in recent months.

The ministry estimated at one point that more than 13 million vehicles were affected worldwide, but that figure was before Honda and others issued additional recalls.

Amid rising public anxiety, NHTSA last month ordered Takata to expand nationwide a recall of certain driver-side inflators that until now have only been recalled in areas of high humidity.

Takata has refused, challenging NHTSA’s legal authority to order such a recall when the cause of the fault is still unknown.

Given Takata’s response, Honda’s U.S. unit said Monday it would voluntarily expand its regional recall to cover 5.4 million vehicles across the United States.

The Nikkei business daily on Tuesday quoted Honda CEO Takanobu Ito as saying the automaker would step in to support Takata if needed, but Honda said he was not specifically referring to financial aid.

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