Japan Car Dealer Bigmotor ‘Lacks Law-abiding Spirit,’ Violated Laws at Multiple Facilities

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Transport ministry officials conduct an inspection at a Bigmotor maintenance facility in Midori Ward, Saitama, on July 28.

The government on Friday proposed the imposition of strict administrative measures against Bigmotor Co., a major used car sales dealer implicated in fraudulent auto insurance claims.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry said the envisaged steps were due to “a lack of law-abiding spirit within the company.”

Dubious tests

The deliberate scratching of customers’ cars with golf balls and hand tools figured among the irregularities flagged in a report drawn up by an independent committee tasked by Bigmotor to investigate its own activities.

The committee’s findings were substantiated by on-site inspections carried out the transport ministry, with “excessive [financial] claims for inspection, maintenance and repair” detected at each of the 34 maintenance and repair facilities visited by the government body.

The firm’s betrayal of its customers’ trust was not limited to acts of deliberate damage, however. The ministry also pointed to multiple violations related to official vehicle inspections, including cases in which “automobiles passed vehicle inspections despite skipping some inspections” (at 16 facilities), and “inspections that were carried out by people who were not official motor vehicle inspectors” (at two facilities).

Such findings imply that vehicles that have not passed official safety checks may be running on public roads, posing a threat to both drivers and pedestrians.

“If such acts were to go unchecked, it could undermine the safety and security of Japan’s automobile society,” said a senior transport ministry official.

Meanwhile, a mechanic in his 20s who previously worked at a Bigmotor outlet in the Kanto region said, “[The company] routinely carried out fraudulent vehicle inspections.”

According to the mechanic, during regular vehicle inspections, a rubber component that protects the drive shaft was deliberately and routinely cut. The mechanic would then tell the customer that he had “repaired the part, because it would not otherwise pass the inspection.”

The worker also claimed that his supervisor told him customers who visited to the shop for official vehicle inspections were “ready to pay a lot of money,” and were thus a “particularly good target.”

The mechanic said he repeatedly carried out illicit acts, including using a hammer to cause small cracks in headlights with the aim of overcharging customers. “The atmosphere within the inspection and maintenance facilities encouraged such underhand practices,” the man said. “I feel truly sorry.”

Double-sized penalty

Bigmotor is said to have had a “profit-first” culture that promoted workers who performed well, and demoted or transferred workers who performed poorly.

“We’ve created a distorted corporate culture through excessive, performance-based management, irrational sales-target setting, and frequent demotions,” said the company’s president Shinji Izumi during a press conference in July. The ministry is thought to have taken such corporate traits into account when formulating its punitive measures draft.

Under its proposed steps, the government will assign — as it has done in other cases — “violation points” for individual cases. The sum of such points will determine the level of punishment, including revocation of designation as a private vehicle inspection facility (360 points or more) or suspension of vehicle inspection services (20 points or more).

The government has also included a provision wherein penalty points will be doubled if “the violation has a large social impact.” However, such provisions have rarely been applied in the past.

“Violations of laws and regulations were confirmed at every maintenance facility [visited by the ministry team],” the transport ministry official said. “The company lacks a system of law-abidance.”

Under the government’s measures, Bigmotor’s Hamamatsu-Minami branch in Shizuoka Prefecture — where a total of 620 vehicles passed official inspections without thorough inspection or repair — would register 13,584 penalty points alone. Meanwhile, 12 of the company’s maintenance stations would have their inspection designation revoked —the heaviest punishment imposable on private vehicle inspection establishments.

Bigmotor has 135 inspection and maintenance facilities nationwide, and ministry inspections are ongoing at 101 facilities. The ministry intends to inspect each of the firm’s maintenance facilities in an attempt to grasp the depth of management complicity in the fraudulent acts.