Nissan Confesses to Falsified Testing Data for Japanese Vehicles

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

After Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal came under public scrutiny, numerous industry analysts prophesied it would not be an isolated incident. Cheating had been done in the past, and would likely continue into the future. In fact, numerous experts claimed every major automotive manufacturer probably engaged in illicit behavior to some degree. With so many laws and employees who may be interested in shirking them, it’s bound to happen time and time again.

On Monday, Nissan Motor Co. admitted it improperly measured exhaust emissions and fuel economy for 19 vehicle models sold in Japan. Late last year, Nissan and Subaru both confessed that they had allowed uncertified technicians to conduct finial vehicle inspections. Initially, the issue seemed like a harmless oversight, but in some cases the failing went unnoticed for decades, resulting in falsified data as a way to cut corners. Both Mitsubishi Motors and Suzuki admitted in 2016 that they exaggerated the fuel economy of their vehicles by cheating on tests.

While Germany is currently the nation under the most scrutiny for underhanded automotive action, Japan is no stranger to industrial misdeeds. However, before we start licking the rest of the industry’s boots, let’s remind ourselves that practically every large automaker has been accused of (or caught) breaking the rules over the past decade.

Tampering has simply become a bigger issue in Japan than initially believed, tarnishing the region’s rather enviable reputation. According to Reuters, Nissan said it found that sample test environments for emissions and fuel economy in final vehicle inspections at most of its factories in Japan were not in line with domestic standards.

“This is a deep and serious issue for our company,” COO Yasuhiro Yamauchi told reporters in a meeting. “We realize that our compliance awareness remains lacking.”

Nissan intends to conduct an internal investigation to determine the cause, which it expects will take at least a month to compete. It’s highly similar to the rhetoric following the realization that it failed to adhere to the proper final inspection process, ultimately leading to the recall of 1.2 million vehicles.

It was the earlier investigation that led to the realization that vehicle information had been fabricated. During voluntary compliance checks, roughly 2,200 sample tests performed at six plants producing Nissan vehicles yielded 1,200 examples of falsified data at five locations — which makes for a pretty horrendous scorecard.

The company previously noted that final inspections had overstated mileage data. While this was initially presumed to be a way to streamline the process or the result of laziness, it was later suspected that supervisors pressured some employees to make fuel economy estimates appear more favorable.

Nissan later discovered incidents where vehicle driving speeds and durations, along with external temperatures, were not in line with Japanese emissions testing regulations. Likewise, the applicable testing equipment had not been properly calibrated. While this doesn’t guarantee intentional tampering, it is highly suspicious when compounded.

Based on the information presently available, the tampering incidents date back to 2013 and are claimed to involve only 10 Nissan employees. But Yamauchi said it was entirely possible that older data may reveal the problem goes back further.

The automaker has been very careful to point out that these issues do not affect automobiles manufactured outside of Japan, nor do they impact vehicle safety — something we’re inclined to believe. While Japan mandates that final inspection procedures be the domain of officially sanctioned experts, other regions are not subjected to it. Still, it represents a significant failing at Nissan.

Cutting corners is just bad practice, regardless of the company or product, as it can allow difficult-to-spot faults to slip through unnoticed. Perhaps something like an airbag inflator that’s reliant on unstable chemicals and ultimately proves extremely dangerous to customers. While that’s a less pertinent example, every time an automaker is caught bungling something, you begin to wonder where else mistakes may have been made.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • TW5 TW5 on Jul 09, 2018

    Cheating is the inevitable consequence of companies caught between the pincers of government regulation and consumer demand. Governments are effectively mandating that the price of vehicles rise, while the public tends to be price sensitive. Margins decline and cheating is inevitable, particularly when fuel economy targets are pie-in-the-sky political propaganda. Cheating a fuel economy tests is about as "egregious" as screen-peeking during a multiplayer first-person-shooter. Fuel efficiency regulations have reached maximum marginal benefit. Fuel economy regulations function best as a fail safe. We learned this in the United States after decades of leaving them unchanged, during which time, most fleets evolved to maximize customer utility while achieving the minimum fuel economy requirement. The market will probably always function that way, absent of extreme oil price volatility on the upside. Create some sort of incentives for the market to create fuel efficient technologies so they are present when the regulatory minimums need to be raised, but don't outlaw vehicles and turn fuel efficiency regs into political treatises and virtue-signaling games. Cheating will be the result. Just like all of those sales people living paycheck to paycheck with unserviceable debt, simply to maintain the appearance of success.

    • See 4 previous
    • Sub-600 Sub-600 on Jul 09, 2018

      @Art Vandelay flagged for incessant complaining

  • Bd2 Probably too late to do anything about it for the launch, but Kia should plan on doing an extensive refresh of the front fascia (the earlier, the better) as the design looks really ungainly.
  • Namesakeone Since I include SUVs and minivans as trucks, I really cannot think of a brand that is truly truckless. MG maybe?
  • Sobhuza Trooper Subaru, they were almost there with the BRAT. --On a lighter note, where the hell is my Cooper Works Mini truck?
  • Mike Evs do suck, though. I mean, they really do.
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