Nissan chief apologises for inspection scandal

Nissan's executive vice president has expressed his remorse for widespread illegal inspections at the Japanese car giant.

"I would like to take this opportunity to express a sincere apology for our recent issues," said Daniele Schillaci, bowing deeply for several seconds, at the Nissan booth at the Tokyo Motor Show.

"We sincerely regret any inconvenience and concern this has caused our valued customers."

This year's show highlights smart and green vehicles that talk, connect online and stop on their own before crashes. But scandals surfacing within weeks of the show, including another one at Kobe Steel which has hit the entire industry, are casting a shadow over the festivities.

Reporters got a preview of the show at Tokyo Big Sight hall, ahead of its opening to the public on Saturday.

Mr Schillaci switched from his almost tearful apology to an upbeat demeanour after a resonating electronic beep - the special sound called Canto, designed for Nissan electric cars to protect pedestrians. Electric cars are extremely quiet compared with petrol-engine cars, and people have complained about not being aware of them approaching.

"What you just heard is the sound of the future," he said, proceeding happily with his presentation on automated driving and electric sports cars.

Taking centre stage at the Nissan booth was a sleek zero-emissions electric "concept" car, billed as "Nissan intelligent mobility". It comes with surrounding 360-degree sensors capability from radars, cameras, lasers and sonars, to deliver accident-free driving as well as a future in which the car can drop its owner off somewhere before parking or returning home, according to Mr Schillaci.

Japanese carmakers have been hit by a series of scandals in recent years, including a massive recall of defective air-bags made by Japanese supplier Takata which involves some 100 million air-bag inflators worldwide. The defect has been linked to 19 deaths and dozens of injuries.

The global industry has also been rocked by a scandal at Volkswagen of Germany over cars it had illegally rigged to cheat on US emissions tests.

Nissan, allied with Renault of France, acknowledged last month that inspection irregularities had been going on for years at its plants in Japan, with the final inspections routinely done by unauthorised staff.

Shortly after apologising for that, Nissan said the illegal checks had continued. It has halted production in Japan for the domestic market until it can figure out how a recurrence can be prevented.

Nissan company officials have said the practice was so ingrained it was hard to change. Better communication is needed among managers, and production will not resume until the government gives its approval, they said. Thousands of cars will have to be re-inspected.

"We have formed an investigative team with a third party, which is working hard to find out what happened and why," said Mr Schillaci, adding that the company was working to prevent a recurrence.

The other scandal, over the falsification of data at Kobe Steel, spans dozens of products made of steel, aluminium, copper and other materials, affecting some 500 companies including major carmakers around the world and the aircraft, electronics and railway industries.

Toyota executive vice president Didier Leroy said the company was checking aluminium plates and other Kobe Steel components used in its models and had found no safety or quality problems so far.

"We were very worried," he told reporters. "We deeply apologise to our customers."

He declined to comment on Nissan's scandal, but stressed that all of Toyota's inspections are being carried out according to regulations, by qualified inspectors.

Mr Leroy rejected the idea that the scandals may hinder Toyota's ability to develop zero-emission and "smart" vehicles or that Japan may be falling behind in such technologies.

Analysts say Japan has no time to waste on cleaning up after scandals given the big push by US players like Google, General Motors and Uber to put self-driving cars on the roads, possibly within five to 10 years.

"Introduction of self-driving cars will lead to new business models," said Bart Selman, a professor of computer science at Cornell University. The Japanese could catch up with rivals if they move quickly, he said.

"This means the space is very competitive. There will quite likely be just a few surviving companies to handle all demand."

US carmakers, such as General Motors and Ford, are not attending the show. They have long struggled in the Japanese market, which is dominated by the domestic brands.

AP


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