Toyota’s fake vehicle inspections could undermine confidence in safety

REUTERS/Toru Hanai
A man walks past a Toyota Motor Corp logo at the company’s showroom in Tokyo, Japan June 14, 2016.

Toyota Motor Corp. has said that fraudulent safety inspections of vehicles, including the omission of some tests, have been rampant at its sales arms. These are acts of blatant disregard for safety that betray the trust of customers. Legal compliance should be thoroughly observed.

The total number of vehicles affected by the fraudulent inspections amounted to 6,659 automobiles at 16 dealerships run by 15 sales arms. In addition to violating laws and regulations by failing to inspect parking brakes and replace necessary parts, there were cases in which headlight brightness data was intentionally manipulated.

Based on the Road Transport Vehicle Law, the vehicle inspection system checks if the safety of vehicles has been maintained.

Safety inspections are required of private vehicles three years after a new car is registered, and every two years thereafter. It is common for a government-designated maintenance shop to act as a private automobile inspection station.

The frequent occurrence of irregularities at such places could undermine the credibility of the system itself.

Toyota had conducted a thorough examination of its about 4,900 sales bases nationwide since July this year after the revelation of irregularities at a dealership in Aichi Prefecture in March and another in Tokyo in June that was discovered in an audit by the central government.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry has revoked the designation as private automobile inspection stations for some dealerships that violated laws and regulations. It is only natural for the central government to take such strict measures.

Not only the dealerships, but Toyota itself also bears heavy responsibility. Toyota has been asking its dealerships to speed up vehicle inspections, such as those set to be done in 45 minutes or in two hours, establishing a system in which awards are bestowed on dealerships based on the number of vehicles inspected, among other factors.

As a result, there were cases in which dealerships accepted excessive inspection reservations and mechanics could not keep up with the work even if they worked overtime, according to Toyota.

Even if automobile inspections are a major source of profit for dealerships, efficiency can never be more important than safety.

Toyota has apologized for encouraging such irregularities and has said it will work to prevent a recurrence.

As concrete measures for that purpose, Toyota cited promoting vehicle inspections on weekdays to spread out the customers that converge on weekends. The automaker also plans to introduce a system to check the inspection work through video recordings and to drastically revise the system awarding dealerships based on the number of vehicles inspected. Effective measures should be taken.

The automobile industry as a whole is facing the structural problem of a shortage of mechanics who are responsible for vehicle inspections and other such work. The number of applicants for the automobile mechanics examination as a government-certified qualification in fiscal 2020 was about 37,000, almost half the number 15 years ago, partly due to the decreasing population of 18-year-olds and the trend of young people not being attached to automobiles.

It is important to create a comfortable work environment by improving the treatment of workers, such as by raising their salary, and facilitating labor-saving efforts through the introduction of the latest equipment.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Oct. 6, 2021.