Friday, June 21, 2024

Car safety scandal rips through Japan’s auto sector: Brands including Toyota and Mazda admit filing false crash data – are UK models affected?

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Japan, a nation which prides itself on a tradition of honour, has been rocked by the biggest scandal to hit its automotive sector in years.

Five major auto makers are at the heart of an ongoing probe by government authorities after all admitted filing false safety reports to gain vehicle certification.

Toyota – the world’s largest car maker – and Mazda have been forced to halt vehicle shipments and officials from the Japanese transport ministry has began visiting company headquarters to uncover any further evidence.

Here’s how everything unfolded and what it means to UK customers.

A car safety scandal has rocked the Japanese car industry with major brands including Toyota, Mazda and Honda at the heart of the uncovered wrongdoing. Pictured: A Toyota worker inspects a vehicle on the production line of the company’s Motomachi factory

When did the safety scandal first come to light?

The scandal first hit headlines in December when an investigation exposed examples of improper testing of 64 models by Daihatsu spanning decades of wrongdoing.

The brand, a subsidiary of Toyota, was forced to suspend shipments in and outside Japan after safety test irregularities were identified by an independent panel probe which highlighted widespread and systematic problems dating back as far as 1989.

Toyota, citing the results of the panel, said it found 174 new cases of irregularities in safety tests and other procedures in 25 test categories, in addition to the problems reported earlier. 

Japan's automotive safety scandal erupted late in 2023 when an independent investigation exposed Daihatsu - a subsidiary of Toyota - had been providing irregular safety test data over decades

Japan’s automotive safety scandal erupted late in 2023 when an independent investigation exposed Daihatsu – a subsidiary of Toyota – had been providing irregular safety test data over decades 

Daihatsu is a brand many Britons will be familiar with; the company sold cars in the UK until it pulled out of the European market in January 2013.

Daihatsu president Soichiro Okudaira has since apologised for ‘betraying the trust of customers’, acknowledging the cheating on safety testing and procedures was tantamount to neglect of safety certificates.

‘We take it very seriously as the problem that has shaken the foundation of an automaker,’ he said during a press conference towards the end of 2023.

Of the 64 models and three engines linked to the cheating scandal in the independent report, 22 vehicles and one powertrain were sold with Toyota branding.

While no major accidents have been reported in connection with the cheating, the findings raised serious concerns regarding oversights by Toyota and potentially other manufacturers, triggering a wider investigation of vehicle makers by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism in January. 

Which major brands are embroiled in the scandal?

Automakers in January were tasked by the Government to investigate certification applications for their vehicles on the orders by the transport ministry.

As such, four major car makers – Toyota, Mazda, Honda and Suzuki – and motorcycle manufacturer Yamaha all identified and reported instances of submitting either flawed or manipulated data when applying for certification of vehicles.

While Suzuki and Honda’s irregularities did not affect vehicles in production today, Toyota, Mazda and Yamaha have been ordered to halt shipments of some existing models. 

Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda pictured during a press conference on June 3, 2024 in Tokyo, Japan, to address the findings from its investigation into supplying flawed or manipulated safety data when applying for certification of vehicles

Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda pictured during a press conference on June 3, 2024 in Tokyo, Japan, to address the findings from its investigation into supplying flawed or manipulated safety data when applying for certification of vehicles

Toyota, Mazda and Yamaha ordered to halt shipments 

On 3 June, Toyota – which sold over 11 million vehicles worldwide last year – confirmed its investigation had identified that seven models, including those that have already ended production since 2014, were tested ‘using methods that differ from the standards defined by the national authorities’.

This occurred during six different tests conducted in 2014, 2015, and 2020. This information was shared with the transport ministry at the end of last month.

Affected vehicles included three production models – the Corolla Fielder, Corolla Axio and Yaris Cross – and discontinued versions of four popular cars, including one sold under the Lexus luxury brand.

In one example, it had measured collision damage on one side of a model’s bonnet while it was required to do so on both sides.

In other instances, it said it conducted certain tests through development testing under more strict conditions than those set out by the ministry that did not meet the government’s requirements.

Toyota said it is still investigating issues related to vehicle fuel efficiency and emissions, and aimed to complete that inquiry by the end of June.

It added there were no performance issues that violated regulations and customers did not need to stop using their cars.

Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda said in a press conference at the beginning of June: ‘As the person in charge of the Toyota Group, I would like to sincerely apologise to our customers, to car fans, and all stakeholders for this.’

He said the cars did not go through the correct certification process before being sold.

Toyoda, the grandson of the company’s founder, added: ‘We are not a perfect company. But if we see anything wrong, we will take a step back and keep trying to correct it.’

Hours after Toyota’s embattled chairman issued the apology, officials from Japan’s transport ministry descended on the company’s headquarters to probe the identified irregularities in applications for safety certificates. 

Toyota boss Akio Toyoda began the press conference in Tokyo by bowing deeply and held the position for a few seconds - a customary act in Japan when companies apologise for wrongdoing

Toyota boss Akio Toyoda began the press conference in Tokyo by bowing deeply and held the position for a few seconds – a customary act in Japan when companies apologise for wrongdoing

The government department said it will pay further visits to all car makers as part of the ongoing inquiry. 

Mazda confirmed that on 30 May it also made the ministry aware of irregularities in a total of five tests in two test categories, which encompass 150,878 units produced and 149,313 sold.

Mazda has since suspended shipments of its MX-5 RF roadster and Mazda2 hatchback after finding workers had modified engine control software test results, it said in its own statement.

It also found crash tests of the Atenza and Axela models, which are no longer in production, had been tampered with by using a timer to set off airbags during some frontal collision tests, instead of relying on an on-board sensor to detect a hit.

Yamaha has also halted shipments of a sports motorcycle while Honda found wrongdoing in noise and output tests over a period of more than eight years to October 2017 on some two dozen models that are no longer being made.

The findings also apply to one Suzuki car model that is no longer being produced. 

A Toyota UK spokesperson told This is Money that the scandal relates to a certification issue only applicable to vehicles sold in Japan. While Yaris Cross shipments have been suspended in its home country, the version of this car sold in the UK is made in France and so is unaffected

A Toyota UK spokesperson told This is Money that the scandal relates to a certification issue only applicable to vehicles sold in Japan. While Yaris Cross shipments have been suspended in its home country, the version of this car sold in the UK is made in France and so is unaffected

What does this mean for UK customers? 

Toyota and the other auto firms embroiled in the scandal insist the cheating scandal only impacts vehicles produced and certified in Japan and not models built overseas.

A Toyota UK spokesperson told us: ‘This is a certification issue that is only applicable to vehicles sold in Japan. As such, any vehicle bought in the UK or Europe is not affected.’

For instance, the company’s Yaris Cross – one of the three current models impacted by the investigation – is the only one that’s also sold in Britain’s showrooms. However, the Yaris Cross produced for the UK market is built in Onnaing in northern France and certified to European standards.

This is the same case for the Mazda MX-5 RF and Mazda2 models that are suspended from shipment in Japan at the moment. 

Mazda has suspended shipments of its MX-5 RF roadster, though UK models are not impacted

Mazda has suspended shipments of its MX-5 RF roadster, though UK models are not impacted

The latest Mazda2, which is based on Toyota's current Yaris supermini, is also suspended from shipment in Japan. UK models are not affected because - like all vehicles sold in Britain - it is certified to European standards

The latest Mazda2, which is based on Toyota’s current Yaris supermini, is also suspended from shipment in Japan. UK models are not affected because – like all vehicles sold in Britain – it is certified to European standards

This is Money has also contacted Mazda UK for comment. 

‘The situation in Japan is related to the specific type approval testing carried out for models that are sold in the Japanese market. The cars that are sold in Europe are homologated by European authorities,’ a spokesperson explained. 

‘All Mazda cars in Europe have passed the necessary tests and no Mazda cars on the road or in the Mazda showrooms in Europe are affected by this investigation.’

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