Misconduct in Automobile Certification: Why Are Laws and Regulations Repeatedly Being Disregarded?

Fraudulent practices involving tests for automobile certification have spread to many major domestic manufacturers, including industry leader Toyota Motor Corp. It is necessary to conduct a thorough investigation into the causes, root out this misconduct and swiftly restore public trust in the industry.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry announced that it has confirmed that five vehicle makers — Toyota, Honda Motor Co., Mazda Motor Corp., Suzuki Motor Corp. and Yamaha Motor Co. — engaged in misconduct related to safety and environmental performance, in connection with the “model certification” required for the mass production of automobiles and motorcycles.

The wrongdoing involves a total of 38 vehicle models. Six models currently in production, including Toyota’s Corolla Fielder, have been ordered not to be shipped.

Irregularities in certification testing came to light last year at Daihatsu Motor Co. and Toyota Industries Corp., both of which are members of the Toyota Group. In response, the ministry asked 85 automobile-related companies to investigate whether there had been any misconduct over the past 10 years and report the results.

The impact of the fraudulent practices spreading to major manufacturers is significant. Automobiles support jobs for 5.5 million people, including those in related firms. This misconduct has seriously damaged the credibility of Japanese automobiles, which have won customers around the world on the strength of their high quality.

On June 4, the ministry conducted an on-site investigation at Toyota’s headquarters, based on the Road Transport Vehicle Law. It also intends to do so at the other four firms. It is hoped that the ministry will make efforts to clarify the situation to prevent a recurrence.

Model certification is a system under which the government examines whether a vehicle meets safety performance and other standards before it is put on the market. Once a particular model obtains certification, the vehicle maker does not need to undergo a governmental inspection for each individual unit.

However, it is a prerequisite that manufacturers conduct proper tests. If they conduct fraudulent tests, the very foundation of the system will be shaken.

How can vehicle makers say there are no safety problems while also admitting their wrongdoing? Why are the standards for certification tests not being observed? The government and the automobile industry must clarify the factors behind this situation.

There has been no end to fraudulent certification testing since such practices came to light at Mitsubishi Motors Corp. eight years ago. The types of wrongdoing have diversified.

Among the misconduct, the alteration of engine output data particularly stood out. However, in a safety test that involved crashing a dolly weighing the regulation standard of 1.1 tons into a vehicle, Toyota actually used a heavier 1.8-ton dolly. According to Toyota, data from the development stage was used as the data for the certification tests.

The manufacturers said the tests were stricter than the standards, but the competition to develop new vehicles has become so intense that they may have omitted procedures required by laws and regulations.

The automobile industry is undergoing a major transformation, including a shift to electric vehicles. Some have said that development has become more complicated and that the certification testing system is not in step with the times. One issue to be tackled will be reconsidering the system so as not to allow a decline in international competitiveness.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 5, 2024)