Leaders of 3 Top Japanese Automakers Offer Apologies in Brewing Scandal over Vehicle Certification; Dealers, Customers Fret over Suspended Shipments of Certain Models

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Top: Toyota Motor Corp. Chairman Akio Toyoda stands up after concluding a press conference on Monday in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
Bottom: Mazda Motor Co. President Masahiro Moro, right, bows at a press conference on Monday in Minato Ward, Tokyo.

The presidents of three of the five vehicle manufacturers embroiled in a brewing and unprecedented scandal over vehicle testing certification held press conferences Monday to apologize for their companies’ improper practices.

The deception involved instances of the recently discovered falsifying of vital documents for some vehicle models. The scandal has brought a halt to the shipment and sales of those models, including a number of popular ones, causing concern among both car dealers and consumers.

“We think such misconduct shakes the foundation of the system and is something that automakers should never do,” Toyota Motor Corp. Chairman Akio Toyoda said at a press conference Monday in Tokyo.

Following previous revelations of Daihatsu Motor Co. and Toyota Industries Corp. engaging in fraudulent practices over test results, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry ordered 85 vehicle and equipment makers to carry out internal investigations in January and February.

The ministry announced Monday that the acts, including falsifying documents, came to light at five manufacturers — Toyota, Mazda Motor Corp., Yamaha Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. and Suzuki Motor Corp.

In its investigation, Toyota found irregularities in its certification testing, a required step in the mass production of automobiles and other vehicles. More than 1,000 business partners, including second-tier subcontractors, will be affected by the scandal.

“Toyota is not a perfect company,” Toyoda said. “When we make a mistake, we have to halt what we are doing and conduct an examination on the spot and on the actual things, which creates the opportunity for improvement.”

Mazda President Masahiro Moro also showed contrition at his press conference in Tokyo. “I take the issue seriously and offer my deepest apology,” he said.

Shipments have been suspended for two Mazda car models, for which Moro said the company has about 3,500 pending orders. “We will provide a thorough explanation [to our customers],” Moro said.

Regarding the losses of parts makers supplying the company, he said, “Of course, we will cover that.”

Honda President Toshihiro Mibe bowed deeply while addressing the press on Monday. “Testing in the certification system is a prerequisite for assuring safety and peace of mind regarding our products, and we accept the results [of the investigation] with great earnestness,” Mibe said.

Dealers left in limbo

The sudden halt of shipments of some models is leaving car dealerships in a state of flux.

“I’m the one who has to tell the customer who is just about to receive their car, ‘Shipments have been halted and you won’t be getting your car,’” an employee at a Toyota dealership in Tokyo lamented.

According to the employee, the suspended Yaris Cross model is one of the company’s hottest sellers. Since some customers purchase a new car when the next mandatory — and costly — inspection of their current car comes due, it is possible that dealers may be forced to provide loaner cars or pick up the inspection costs themselves. In addition, cancellations of purchases could leave dealers with an excessive inventory of cars.

“Customers who received an affected model will be coming in for their scheduled check-up, but I am too ashamed to face them,” said an employee at a Mazda dealership in western Japan. “And how should I explain this to prospective customers? I need detailed information as soon as possible.”

The city government of Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, uses Toyota cars as official vehicles, and owns more than 40 Corolla Fielders — one of the models under the stop-shipment order. “If a car that was not properly tested is used and, god forbid, a municipal worker or resident is caught up in an accident, the harm will be irreparable,” said a municipal official in his 40s.

A 44-year-old resident of the city, who has been driving Toyota vehicles for more than 20 years, said, “I drive them because I trust the brand.

“While they say there is no problem in the performance [of the affected models], it worries me thinking there could have been improprieties in other inspection processes. I want them to fix what needs to be fixed.”