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Subaru, Nissan's inspection scandals could harm Japan auto industry's image

Subaru Corp. factories are seen in Ota, Gunma Prefecture, from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter on Oct. 27. 2017. (Mainichi)

Following revelations that Subaru Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. allowed product inspections by uncertified staff, trust in the Japanese auto industry -- which is globally renowned for its high quality -- has been profoundly shaken.

    At a press conference on Oct. 27, Subaru President Yasuyuki Yoshinaga expressed his embarrassment over the discoveries, stating, "I am deeply ashamed that our company has contributed toward the recent mistrust and anxiety surrounding products made in Japan."

    With Subaru and Nissan being two of the main firms representing the Japanese auto industry, a dark cloud has drifted over the industry.

    Commenting on the recent situation, Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp. and chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA), said the following during the Tokyo Motor Show on Oct. 27: "As a manufacturing industry that handles products for consumers, we are expected to deliver quality control that is 100 percent."

    Meanwhile, Nissan Motor Co. President Hiroto Saikawa was absent from the Tokyo Motor Show, choosing to deal with his company's problem of inspections performed by uncertified staff instead. Subaru chief Yoshinaga was also notably absent from the auto event.

    Usually, the Tokyo Motor Show is a golden opportunity for Japanese auto makers to showcase their latest models to a captive global audience. However, the recent issues surrounding uncertified inspections have dampened this year's mood. As a source involved in the industry reveals: "It's difficult to deny that rain has fallen on this year's parade."

    In response to a request from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism regarding inspection arrangements, other major Japanese automakers namely Toyota, Honda Motor Co., Mazda Motor Corp., Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Suzuki Motor Corp. and Daihatsu Motor Corp. all reported that there were "no deficiencies." However, the recent revelations concerning Nissan and Subaru are likely to tarnish the industry's reputation as a whole.

    At a press conference on Oct. 27, Transport Minister Keiichi Ishii stated: "I want to examine whether anything needs to be revised with regard to the carrying out of final inspections."

    Under the current system, the requirements are somewhat vague: "Inspections should be carried out by staff who are assigned by the manufacturer in advance, and who have the necessary knowledge and qualifications." In addition, the kind of training given to inspection staff is left in the hands of each automaker, but this will probably change, with stricter regulations likely to be adopted.

    On the other hand, one of the leaders of a major domestic automaker said at the Tokyo Motor Show: "Each company should take a moralistic approach, and ensure that workers stick to the rules set within that company. I don't think there is a need to (make the regulations excessively strict)" -- touching on concerns that tougher regulations could lead to reduced competitiveness.

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