TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's transport ministry said on Wednesday it received a report of an "unusual deployment" of a Takata Corp <7312.T> air bag outside an existing recall program - raising the prospect that recalls could be expanded in Japan.
Officials at the ministry, Japan's auto safety regulator, told reporters a passenger-side air bag exploded as it was being removed from a scrapped car in Gifu prefecture in central Japan on Nov. 6, shooting out metal shrapnel. No one was hurt.
"In this case, we don't yet know the cause of the unusual deployment and we don't yet have detailed information, so we are instructing the carmaker to determine the cause and report back as soon as possible," said Masato Sahashi, director of the ministry's recall enforcement office.
The ministry would not disclose the car's maker, noting only it was a Japanese model. The 2003-model car was fitted with a Takata air bag with an inflator manufactured in January, 2003.
Officials said this particular inflator produced at this time was not subject to recalls in Japan, but may already be part of a wider recall by some automakers abroad.
"The type of inflator which malfunctioned in this case is carried in other cars that are still on the road, so this is useful in determining whether there should be more recalls," Sahashi said.
Japan has set up a special taskforce to deal with the expanding recall crisis. Ten automakers have so far recalled 2.54 million vehicles in Japan over potential defects with Takata air bags. More than 16 million vehicles have been recalled globally, and at least five deaths - all in Honda Motor Co <7267.T> cars - have been linked to Takata air bags.
Part of the vehicle scrapping process in Japan is to set off the air bag to prevent its accidental deployment. There have been six previous cases where an inflator ruptured the air bag in cars at salvage yards in Japan from 2008 to 2014.
In addition, there have been four incidents in which air bags in cars in use deployed with excessive force, damaging the vehicles. No deaths or injuries have been recorded from any of these incidents in Japan.
(Reporting by Mari Saito and Maki Shiraki; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)