Japanese Automakers Are in the Midst of a Domestic Scandal

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Japanese manufacturers are in the middle of a minor crisis after the nation’s transport ministry noticed irregularities in the certification process of several domestic models before launching a formal investigation. Toyota, Mazda, Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha Motor have all been faulted with submitting either incorrect or intentionally misleading information in regard to vehicle certifications.

The good news is that the entire issue presently seems to be limited to the Japanese domestic market. Problems likewise appear to be largely limited to simple clerical errors or failing to follow the exacting regulatory requirements instituted by the Japanese government. Some issues even appear to be the result of automakers going above and beyond the normal testing protocols and getting dinged by regulators because companies didn’t adhere to rules in the strictest sense possible.

For example, during the development of the Yaris Cross, Toyota said that regulations regarding how companies tested damage sustained to seatbacks when luggage moves during a crash. The government required updated luggage blocks and Toyota submitted information pertaining to the older units. Another instance saw the same company using a 1,800-kilogram barrier for crash testing when Japan requires a 1,100-kg unit. While the change technically resulted in a more stringent crash test, it’s not what the government demands.

Ministry officials have ordered Mazda, Toyota, and Yamaha to postpone shipments of certain vehicles. Toyota likewise kicked off the investigation after its Daihatsu subsidiary was found to be running afoul of Japan’s vehicle testing certification process at the start of 2024. This led to a widening investigation into the small vehicles (including Kei cars) produced by other manufacturers.

The formal, on-site investigations started this week and were centered on Toyota, which held a press conference in anticipation of the resulting media fallout. Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda apologizes to customers, shareholders, and any enthusiast with a soft spot for the brand. "The point of this issue is that the vehicles were mass-produced and sold without going through the correct certification processes," he said, adding that

During the conference, the brand outlined several examples of how it had failed to adhere to government protocols. While some did seem like the brand could have been cutting corners, others were the result of Toyota going beyond the normal testing procedures in a manner that was out of line with the official regulations. Leadership was extremely apologetic during the conference. But there were undertones from Toyota that felt a little passive aggressive — as if the company felt it was being penalized for going beyond the status quo.

“As the person responsible for the Toyota Group, I would like to extend my sincere apologies to our customers, car enthusiasts, and all stakeholders for this issue, following Hino, Daihatsu, and Toyota Industries Corporation. I am truly sorry,” explained Mr. Toyoda. “All the [relevant] cases are related to certification. The certification system in Japan verifies whether a product meets the established standards mainly in the fields of safety and environment using measurement methods in accordance with rules.”

The manufacturer stated seven of its models had been faulted by the ministry for failing to properly obtain vehicle certifications. The three that are still in production include the Corolla Fielder, Corolla Axio, and Yaris Cross. The rest had already been discontinued.

If you’re interested in the finer details of how testing went sideways, Toyota provided loads of examples during its press conference. But you’ll have to decide whether the company failing to adhere to the strict testing guidelines of the Japanese government was the result of engineers botching the finer details of some paperwork, getting a little lazy, or attempting to go beyond Japanese regulations and then being faulted when it didn’t precisely adhere to the letter of the law.

Looking at some of the examples provided by the manufacturer, all three scenarios seem equally plausible and probably came into play on different occasions. But a few, most notably, engine output data looks as though it may have been intentionally falsified.

Interestingly, this seems to be something a lot of manufacturers did. Mazda was similarly faulted with covertly tweaking engine controlling software (perhaps in a bit to circumvent emissions). Suzuki, Honda, and Yamaha likewise reported falsified test results of their own.

There also appears to be some attempt to leverage the scandal as a way to oust Akio Toyoda as chairman. If you’re familiar with the management shake ups witnessed at Nissan starting in 2018, you’re likely aware of how ugly executive warfare can get inside Japan. In Nissan’s case, the government looked to have been weaponized specifically to help decide corporate leadership. While it’s far too early to assume anything like that about the current certification issue, the resulting media attention has been used to make the chairman look bad.

Reuters even reported that proxy advisory firms Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass Lewis have explicitly recommended that shareholders vote against re-electing Akio Toyoda as chairman at their next meeting.

The Japanese transport ministry will continue its investigation at Toyota before pivoting to other manufacturers. According to Kyodo News, roughly 1.7 million cars were “affected by Toyota’s misconduct.” Mazda is estimated to have certification irregularities in about 150,000 vehicles.

Honda reported a whopping 4.35 million vehicles, while Suzuki said it’s number would be closer to 26,000. However, both have stated that only discontinued models were impacted.

Meanwhile, Toyota has said it will continue its own internal investigation as it collaborates with the government. But it stated that all of its vehicles were safe to drive and simply out of compliance with certification requirements. The company also stated that North American products are held to different standards and protocols — suggesting that they will not be affected by any of the above.

We’ll be following this story as it evolves.

[Image: Toyota]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by  subscribing to our newsletter.

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.

More by Matt Posky

Join the conversation
2 of 27 comments
  • Bd2 Bd2 on Jun 06, 2024

    Ahh, Anal polluting another article with his weak-sauce attempt at trolling H/K by going overboard with fake praise.

  • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Jun 07, 2024

    Japanese regulators insist on EXACT compliance? They must love the game show The Price is Right, with contestants guessing the cost of things, without going over the retail price.

  • Bob65688581 We bought zillions of German cars, despite knowing about WWII slave labor. Refusing to buy something for ideological reasons is foolish.Both the US and the EU have imposed tariffs, so the playing field is level. I'll buy the best price/quality, regardless of nationality.Another interesting question would be "Would you buy one of the many new European moderate-price EVs?" but of course they aren't sold here.Third interesting question: "Why won't Stellantis sell its best products in America?"
  • Freshblather No. Worried there will be malicious executable code built into the cars motherboard that could disable the Chinese cars in the event of hostilities between the west and China.
  • Bd2 Absolutely not - do not want to support a fascist, totalitarian regime.
  • SCE to AUX The original Capri was beautiful. The abomination from the 90s was no Capri, and neither is this.It looks good, but too similar to a Polestar. And what's with the whacked price?
  • Rover Sig Absolutely not. Ever.