"This decision is based on the agency's evaluation of a recent driver's-side airbag failure in a vehicle outside the current regional recall area and its relationship to five previous driver's-side airbag ruptures, all of which are covered by existing regional recalls," NHTSA said in a statement late Tuesday.
The defective airbags can deploy with too much force and spray metal parts at vehicle occupants. The defect has been linked to five deaths. Thus far, the recalls have been limited to high-humidity states and areas.
The expanded recall would affect vehicles produced in model year 2008 or before and involve Ford, Honda, Chrysler, Mazda and BMW. But NHTSA did not say how many vehicles would be involved in a nationwide recall or provide a list of models.
"Honda will continue to cooperate with the NHTSA in its industry-wide effort to investigate abnormal airbag inflator deployments, including, as warranted by the developing investigation, expanding the recalls affecting our vehicles," wrote Honda spokesman Chris Martin in response to an Edmunds query.
Ford told Edmunds it is in the process of evaluating the NHTSA request.
"We take the safety of our customers very seriously," wrote Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker. "We just learned about this new request from NHTSA and are quickly evaluating it. We will continue to cooperate with NHTSA, as we have been, and will take the appropriate action as expeditiously as we can."
Chrysler told Edmunds it is examining the order issued by NHTSA.
"Chrysler Group is now examining the General Order," wrote Eric Mayne, a company spokesman. "The company has been and will remain transparent with NHTSA about this issue."
BMW and Mazda could not be reached immediately for comment.
The NHTSA order came just two days before David Friedman, the NHTSA deputy administrator, and executives from Takata, Honda and Chrysler are set to testify before a Senate committee on the recall crisis.
U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are pushing NHTSA to expand the proposed recall even further.
"We are pleased that NHTSA today heeded our call to recognize the national scope of this problem, and abandoned its ill-advised, unacceptably-limited regional recalls," the two said in a joint statement. "By expanding recalls beyond the most humid areas, NHTSA today acknowledged that the danger presented by Takata airbags is not limited to any one part of the country. NHTSA should additionally expand this recall to include passenger airbags that could injure or kill those not behind the wheel.
NHTSA also asked Takata and the 10 automakers that use Takata airbag inflators — BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota — to provide any test data they have on Takata inflators outside the current regional recall areas.
"The agency is demanding this information to compel Takata and the affected industry to be frank with not only NHTSA, but the American public," NHTSA said.
"We will carefully review and respond to NHTSA's order," wrote Cindy Knight, a Toyota spokeswoman, in response to an Edmunds query. "Importantly, only front passenger airbag inflators are currently affected in involved Toyota vehicles, and we launched a nationwide recall to address this issue in April 2013."
Nisssan spokesman Steve Yaeger provided the following response to the latest NHTSA announcement: "Nissan Group has just been made aware of the latest announcement from NHTSA regarding an additional recall of driver's-side airbag inflators. Nissan has not received a request from NHTSA to recall driver's-side inflators. Nissan is not involved because the driver's-side inflators in our vehicles were manufactured by another supplier.
"As to NHTSA's questions, we are in frequent communication with the agency on this issue, and we look forward to answering their questions."
GM spokesman Alan Adler told Edmunds: "We have no field data indicating a problem with Takata airbags in our vehicles. We are continuing to monitor the situation and will put our customers' safety ahead of all else. GM's exposure is limited to Pontiac Vibes from 2002-'05 built in a joint venture with Toyota. Those models were recalled in June this year by Toyota and we are executing the recall for Pontiac customers who have been told they can go to any GM dealer for replacement of the passenger airbag inflator."
According to Automotive News, Takata said it is cooperating with NHTSA and automakers to address the issue.
Edmunds says: The pressure mounts for a nationwide recall in this ongoing crisis.