By on October 27, 2017

infiniti nissan factory japan

Japan appears to be having a problem with its quality control. Nissan Group is conducting updated inspection procedures after details emerged that it allowed uncertified employees to conduct final vehicle checks. However, the Japanese government continues to find issues with the automaker’s practices, forcing it to temporarily suspend new vehicle registrations.

Early reports from an external investigation commissioned by Nissan suggest the certification problem may have begun in 1979.

Subaru faces a similar plight. With Nissan’s inspection issue looming larger than anticipated, Subaru has admitted to following improper procedures for its domestic products. On Friday, the carmaker said final inspections at its main plant have occasionally been handled by employees not listed as certified technicians. The problem has persisted for more than 30 years, according to the manufacturer. 

With airbag supplier Takata having admitted to years of falsified testing data and Kobe Steel recently admitting to fibbing about the quality of the aluminum and copper it sells to automakers, something appears to be askew in Japan’s manufacturing sector.

Subaru is currently considering recalling about 255,000 vehicles, including Legacy, Impreza, and Forester models sold on the Japanese domestic market, at a cost of roughly $43.86 million. “The final inspection process is very important and we acknowledge that we did not meet requirements,” said CEO Yasuyuki Yoshinaga at a recent press conference. “It’s always been my goal to make this company good. This issue shows that we’re not there yet.”

“I‘m ashamed that our company has played a role in shaking public trust in Japan’s manufacturing culture,” he concluded.

Like Nissan, Subaru’s issue revolves around uncertified employees using the names of supervisors when signing off on final checks. However, it doesn’t appear to have been done maliciously. While industry standards dictate an accredited person must be present during final inspection, these employees did not appear to know that. The manufacturer has said it is conducting an internal investigation and will release its report to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation on Monday.

The timeframe for Nissan’s report is a little less concrete, according to Bloomberg. While the company has taken measures to remedy the situation, the first attempt didn’t go so well. “Nissan has commissioned a third party to thoroughly investigate the issue and suggest measures to prevent recurrence,” a company spokesman said. “Details of the investigation will be shared at the appropriate time.”

Interestingly, the final certification paperwork isn’t necessary for exported vehicles. So, presumably, affected Japanese models don’t suffer from any glaring quality issues that wouldn’t also be present in export models. If anything, this all amounts to Subaru and Nissan employees taking bureaucratic shortcuts — quite possibly because they didn’t know any better. If that is the case, Yoshinaga-san doesn’t need to be so hard on himself.

Toyota and Honda have already both reported to the Japanese ministry, stating they have discovered no problems with their respective inspection processes.

[Image: Nissan Group]

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16 Comments on “Nissan and Subaru Faulted for Decades of Improper Inspection Procedures...”


  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Deming point #3:

    “Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for massive inspection by building quality into the product in the first place.”

    • 0 avatar
      LeMansteve

      I think most major auto manufacturers (and other industries) apply this philosophy. The inspection here is only being performed to satisfy a Japanese government regulation.

      If it has been performed improperly for decades, and nobody noticed until now, what’s the benefit of performing the inspection? This whole story sounds more like a procedural violation than anything else.

      • 0 avatar
        gmichaelj

        Agreed on these points, also, if the Japanese believe so much in the teachings of Deming, why are they still insisting on final inspections – sounds like government job justification.

  • avatar
    Car Guy

    “Certified” to what? Are these vehicles missing the legally required certification label that states the vehicle meets all safety standards? It’s not clear at all what certification they are talking about. Short of any specifics, it sounds like a quality check is missed and doesn’t mean a defect is present.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      Under Japanese rules, vehicles are required to pass a final certification before they leave the factory, to ensure they conform to specifications registered with regulators for each model.

  • avatar
    hamish42

    Despite the wrong person signing the certificate, these companies have consistently turned out high quality cars – which speaks to the quality and integrity built into the manufacturing/assembly process, Maybe the signer is a step of bureaucracy that isn’t needed?

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      “these companies” – who? Nissan? Even their super car was burning transmissions.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        And there is Subaru’s oil consumption and head gasket issues. But, these are Japanese cars, they’re perfect and will go 500k with no issues. Quality inspections are totally unnecessary.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      The company I once worked for had three Nissan dealerships. I would disagree with your claim that they consistently turn out high quality cars.

      Those dealers did make us quite a bit of money, because of warranty work.

      • 0 avatar
        TonyJZX

        the problem with the kind of snark shown here is that signatory “final quality checks” would not have singled out head gasket glass gearboxes CVT and other internal issues

        how could they? they are a visual inspection and these issues dont surface at the 0km mark

        further to this, some of these are 3rd party supplier issues

        i remember the first series of this article had the new T32 Xtrail/Rogue as the masthead car

        this car isnt a good example. it has had very few recalls and is a solid if stolid vehicle.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Consumer Reports is the final judge.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “it allowed uncertified employees to conduct final vehicle checks.”

    So what? Sometimes uncertified person better than certified. Or a sober uncertified person better than drunk certified.

    Now, someone said here that this didn’t affect quality of these cars. Probably not. But Nissan state today is pathetic. Subaru is nice when new. Then – disaster.

  • avatar
    JMII

    “allowed uncertified employees to conduct final vehicle checks”

    Depends on the check being done. Is this to ensure the floor mats are present, or this is a check to ensure the brake lights work? One thing is minor issue (that sounds like dealer prep), the other is major safety problem. Even if its a major safety problem “uncertified” makes it sound like someone did the check, but they personally weren’t trained and tested on the procedure. So they could be doing things perfectly yet not have some random piece of paper with a special stamp on it.

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      When I was a teenager I worked at McDonald’s. I was ‘uncertified’ to do hamburgers but did them anyway because nobody had time to train me for anything other than the chicken station. Necessity becomes the mother of invention and pretty soo you are doing jobs that you aren’t formally trained for because you are learning them on the fly from real world experience.

      Obviously, this isn’t good from a Japanese business culture point of view where i’s are dotted and t’s crossed (metaphorically speaking), but what we’re seeing here is the “public face / private deeds” aspect of Japanese work culture, the private deeds done to keep up the public face.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    Who certifies inspectors in these factories? Is this part of a manufacturer run in-house class, a third party school? Are there standardized tests?

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Compared to the Kobe Steel disaster, where in effect raw materials shipped had incorrect material classifications, the old selling-the-cheap/out-of-spec-alloy-as-premium-by-lying trick instead of remanufacturing, these final automotive inspection shortcomings seem trivial.

    The business of having a process in control was led by the Japanese under Deming principles. That’s what gave the world half-decently reliable cars 40 years ago where things like doors actually fitted properly without hand-fettling with two by fours. Saw that procedure at Volvo making 164E models in 1969. Ford is still trying to figure this one out at plant level, while their execs loft off into the airy-fairy world of digital mobility to boost share prices by getting rave reviews from business writers who haven’t a technical clue themselves but foam at the mouth over Silicon Valley buzzwords.

    The Japanese national final vehicle inspection system, as I understand it, is government bureaucratic jump-through-the-hoops rubbish invented by people who wouldn’t know a Deming if they fell over it, circa 1956. Some dope is employed to certify each car he inspects meets Type Approval for use on Japanese roads. White glove person is presented with a finished vehicle, most parts hidden, and has to sign off, yes this particular unit meets previously published and agreed upon specs based on build-sheets and a quick once over. Out-of-date idea. It’s a make-work project fully in keeping with the annual vehicle inspections that trashes five year old cars for having a seagull blert on the paint, thereby keeping southeast Asia fully sated with essentially perfect used cars. Of course brand new export cars aren’t inspected in this unneeded step – if the production process is under control, there’s no need.

    Still, by not taking this domestic inspection step completely seriously, quite understandably so from our viewpoint, yet admitting guilt under national norms by utilizing inpectors who haven’t finished the full 8 weeks of how to fill in a form training, Nissan and Subaru have to perform a ritual step dance on the head of a pin to atone for their shockingly antisocial behavior. Different society, different norms, different way of respecting authority.

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