Daihatsu Irregularities: Clarify Responsibility for Disregard of Automobile Safety

Safety overrides all other factors with regard to automobiles. Nevertheless, a major manufacturer of minicars was involved in widespread fraudulent certification tests that paid scant heed to safety issues. This is an unspeakably irresponsible act.

Daihatsu Motor Co. has announced that 174 new cases of misconduct were uncovered during an investigation into certification test irregularities that came to light in April this year. According to the firm, 64 Daihatsu-made models — including some no longer in production — were involved in the irregularities.

The affected models included vehicles produced by Daihatsu and sold under brands of its parent company, Toyota Motor Corp., among other automakers.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry conducted an on-site inspection at Daihatsu’s head office in Osaka Prefecture to investigate the background of the misconduct and other details. The firm has suspended shipments of all its models currently on sale both domestically and overseas.

Daihatsu commands over 30% of the minicar market in Japan and is vying for top position. Minicars are an indispensable form of transport, especially for people living in rural areas, so there could be confusion on the sales front.

According to the company, a safety-focused reexamination of models involved in the irregularities found that the majority were problem-free. However, concerns are spreading among users of Daihatsu vehicles. It is indispensable for the company to offer sincere responses through dealerships and telephone consultation services.

The new cases of misconduct were revealed as part of an investigation report compiled by external lawyers and other experts. The firm’s modus operandi is despicable.

As part of the certification tests, airbags — electronically controlled devices that are supposed to detect impacts — were triggered by a timer. In rear-end impact tests, data obtained from the passenger seat was purposely used as data for the driver seat.

Irregularities, including improper handling of testing equipment, were uncovered in 25 test categories.

According to the investigation report, a shortening of the development period — with the aim of reducing costs — played a major role in the improprieties. In 2011, Daihatsu succeeded in significantly slashing the development period for new car models, and since then, has put priority on cutting development schedules.

The design process takes time, which places strains on the final testing phase and puts pressure on frontline workers.

It is quite natural that the report said “blame should not be laid at the feet of frontline employees, but rather should be directed toward those in managerial posts.”

Speaking at a press conference, Daihatsu President Soichiro Okudaira said, “We’ve failed to understand the burden shouldered by frontline workers and have left behind a workplace environment in which employees can’t flag concerns when encountering problems.” The responsibilities of those in management positions should be clarified.

Parent company Toyota also bears a heavy responsibility. Toyota entrusted Daihatsu with the group’s minicar strategy and increased output of Daihatsu-made vehicles. Following that move, however, instances of misconduct began increasing from 2014, according to the report.

Toyota must concede that this issue is a group-wide problem and rebuild its corporate governance system accordingly.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 22, 2023)