Nissan Cites Staffing Issues as Cause for Final Inspection Snafu, Subaru Says Sorry
On Friday, Nissan Motor Co. blamed a shortage of key staff for improper final inspection procedures at Japanese assembly plants. The problem, which amounts to little more than not having having a specially certified technician give each vehicle a final once-over, has forced the automaker to recall 1.2 million vehicles within Japan this year. As the mandate applies only to vehicles sold on the nation’s domestic market, no exports to North America are affected.
However, that hasn’t stopped Japan’s government from coming down hard on the company for its bureaucratic misstep. After discovering that uncertified inspectors were signing off on vehicle checks required by the transport ministry, Nissan has been incredibly apologetic. It even launched a full-scale investigation, finding that “nonconforming final inspections” were commonplace by the 1990s at the plants, and could even have existed at one factory since 1979.
In a press release, the manufacturer said “Headcount reduction rates allocated to each plant applied uniformly across the whole plant, and special consideration was not given to secure final inspectors,” and included a breakdown of the entire inspection process. “Therefore, the plants had a shortage or no surplus in the number of final inspectors.”
Basically, it forgot to hire replacement technicians with the certifications required. As years progressed, that deficit only grew in scope. Subaru was also caught up in using uncertified staff to conduct final inspections fore reasons that appear to be similar in nature. The firm is preparing to recall almost 400,000 vehicles in Japan to have them reinspected by qualified employees. It estimated in an earlier proposal that 250,000 cars would cost the automaker around $44 million.
“I’m distressed that our company is responsible for something that could cast doubt on the quality of Japanese manufacturing,” Yasuyuki Yoshinaga, chief executive of Subaru, said in a news conference on Friday. “This will be reported around the world.”
Subaru has been exceptionally apologetic since being caught, but Nissan has been so humble and remorseful that I actually feel a little sorry for it. Hiroto Saikawa, who was appointed Nissan’s chief executive in April in to succeed Carlos Ghosn, even said he would return part of his salary to apologize for the scandal. He announced his dismay and concern that nobody had caught the mistake years earlier. Nissan’s cooperate stance on the matter is that its “kanken” (the inspection management team) failed Japan, creating a loss of trust in the company with the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism.
However, Nissan did screw up. Inspectors knowingly skirted the rules. The company’s report even said there were special ledgers designed to keep track of the official stamps that could only be used by qualified inspectors that were loaned for use by inspectors in training to certify cars.
“From the shop floor standpoint, there was a gap between the reality and the requirements for certifying final inspectors, which we didn’t resolve, and which resulted in non-compliance,” Saikawa explained.
Nissan said it would increase the total number of certified inspectors by about 85 by the end of March. Meanwhile, production speeds have been crippled at a handful of plants and may remain slow as the company works on its staffing and certification problem. The automaker even said that some exported vehicles may be affected while it attempts to remedy the situation and improve compliance at home. It is assigning a new corporate vice president to oversee all plants in Japan and expects to drop over $222 million on a domestic recall.
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"We were hoping the inspection requirement would die off and nobody would notice we haven't been doing it."