Major automotive steel supplier found to have faked safety data
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Steel maker Kobe Steel has formally apologised after finding wider problems, dating back to 2011, with faked inspections data for metals used in many products, including cars, bullet trains, aircraft and appliances.
Kobe Steel's president, Hiroya Kawasaki, bowed deeply in a formal apology, lamenting that "Trust in our company has dropped to zero."
He promised a senior trade ministry official that the company, Japan's third-largest steelmaker, would provide results of safety inspections within two weeks and a report on the cause of the problem within a month.
Akihiro Tada, director of the ministry's Manufacturing Industries Bureau, urged the company to move quickly in resolving the problems, which are thought to have affected many of the country's largest manufacturers.
The company said in a statement that it had uncovered manipulation of data on steel powder used in metallurgy and also on high-tech materials used to create films used in computer chips. The government has urged Kobe Steel to clarify the extent of the misconduct.
The latest discovery was of falsification of data on 140 tons of steel powder supplied to one customer in fiscal 2016, between April 2016 and March 2017.
Another case involved 6,611 items of sputtering target materials shipped to 70 customers beginning in November 2011. Kobe Steel said it had failed to carry out tests it had agreed to conduct, and improperly "rewrote" inspection data.
But it said most of those materials, used to deposit thin films from various materials onto components such as computer chips, were re-inspected and are thought to have met customers' specifications.
Kobe Steel Group's logo is seen in Tokyo. Photo / AP
Earlier the company said that in the year up to August 31 it had sold materials such as aluminum flat-rolled products, aluminum extrusions, copper strips, copper tubes and aluminum castings and forgings using falsified data on such things as the products' strength.
The government has asked the company to provide more information about the products supplied to more than 200 Kobe Steel customers, reportedly including some of the country's biggest manufacturers, including defense contractor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and a number of automakers.
It was unclear if the total of 40,900 tons of products involved included shipments to other countries.
"We have confirmed that aluminum from Kobe Steel is used in the hoods and doors of some of our vehicles," Nissan said in an email. "As hoods are related to pedestrian safety, we are working to quickly assess any potential impact on vehicle functionality."
Toyota also confirmed that the material has been used in hoods and rear doors of some of its vehicles.
"Putting the utmost priority on the safety of our customers, we are rapidly working to identify which vehicle models might be subject to this situation and what components were used, as well as what effect there might be on individual vehicles," Toyota said in a statement. "At the same time, we are considering what measures need to be put in place going forward."
Aircraft maker Boeing said it, too, is looking into the problem but had no reason to believe it was a safety concern.
"Boeing has been working closely and continuously with our suppliers since being notified of the issue to ensure timely and appropriate action, including comprehensive inspections and analysis throughout our supply chain," the company said in an email.
Kobe Steel's President Hiroya Kawasaki, left, bows to Akihiro Tada, right, director of the ministry's Manufacturing Industries Bureau. Photo / AP
Kobe Steel said it discovered the violations during internal inspections and "emergency quality audits."
Product quality scandals have posed a challenge to the image of top Japan's manufacturers in recent years. In one of the largest, auto parts maker Takata Corp. has paid $1.4 billion in penalties for concealing an air bag defect blamed for at least 19 deaths worldwide. Major automakers are also engaged in massive recalls and facing criticism for allegedly continuing to use the defective air bags despite knowing of the problem.
Last year, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. acknowledged it had systematically falsified mileage data on some of its vehicles. That company's reputation was hammered earlier by a massive, systematic and decades-long cover-up of defects that surfaced in the early 2000s.
In another major case, materials and chemicals maker Asahi Kasei Corp. found data had been manipulated in 360 projects out of 3,052, casting doubts on the strength of construction pilings.
A report on its investigation into the problem cited a slew of abuses, including outright swapping and falsification of data.
Kobe Steel said it was contacting its customers and working to verify the safety of the products it supplied. It has set up a committee headed by its president to investigate quality issues and hired an outside law firm to conduct a probe into the misconduct.
"Verification and inspection to date have not recognized specific problems casting doubts on the safety of the nonconforming products," it said.