Japan's transport ministry on Monday asked a local district court to fine Nissan Motor Co. for not adhering to warnings given to the automaker to refrain from using uncertified staff to conduct vehicle inspections.
In September last year, following both internal and external probes, Nissan was ordered to fix its substandard operations after it came to light that the malpractice was still taking place three weeks after the ministry issued the order.
According to sources with knowledge of the matter, at the automaker's plant in Tochigi Prefecture, 107 final vehicle inspections were carried out after Nissan was ordered to correct its business practices.
The relevant fine here, thus, could reach 32.1 million yen (305,592 U.S. dollars) as under Japanese law, Nissan can be fined up to 300,000 yen (2,859 U.S. dollars) for each car affected by the uncertified vehicle checks.
While the ministry itself has not brought charges against Nissan, the Yokohama District Court will now decide whether the fines are applicable to the automaker for knowingly using staff who had yet to be certified to conduct final vehicle checks.
Nissan was forced to halt shipments and production at all six of its assembly plants in October last year after it was revealed that uncertified inspections were still occurring even after the scandal first came to light in September.
The final inspections conducted on vehicles by unqualified personnel at Nissan also led to the automaker issuing a domestic recall of some 1.2 million cars sold in Japan over the past three years.
The transport ministry thereafter began conducting inspections at Nissan's plants as it stepped up measures to ensure the embattled automaker's practice of using uncertified staff to carry out safety checks would be curbed and preventative measures put in place.
Such measures included Nissan carrying out final inspections on vehicles in areas that were not connected to other inspection lines and external probes being carried out on a weekly basis.
But even after the transport ministry's intervention, it was revealed in November that Nissan may have given inaccurate information to the ministry, leading to Keiichi Ishii, minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, blasting the automaker for routinely using unqualified staff for final vehicle inspections which had undermined ministry-standard procedures for certified technicians.
According to an internal investigation at Nissan, it was revealed that improper final inspections on vehicles had become an inherent practice at the Yokohama-based automaker and dates back as far as 20 years.
Nissan had routinely not been following standardized procedures and protocols for final inspections that are required by Japan's transport ministry to be conducted on all vehicles sold in Japan, the investigation revealed.
Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa conceded that the automaker's training system for certifying vehicle inspection staff had not changed for 20 years with final inspections routinely conducted by uncertified technicians.
Ishii maintained at the time that such negligence of compliance has been undermining the nation's regulatory system.
He said that the government has since stepped up its overseeing of a number of manufacturers here, including Kobe Steel, itself mired in a data standard fabrication scandal.
The transport ministry has said however that it has found no cases of improper inspections conducted by Japanese automakers, other than those already revealed at Nissan and Subaru Corp., based on reports submitted by 24 makers at the ministry's request.
Subaru Corp. in late October announced it would move to recall around 255,000 after it was revealed that final vehicle inspections had also been carried out by uncertified staff.
The recall was applicable to the firm's entire range of 12 models that have been sold over the past three years, the Tokyo-based automaker said.
The results of an internal probe were reported to the transport ministry after it was revealed that uncertified staff had also been carrying out inspections at two of Subaru's plants in Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo.
The probe disclosed that the malpractice had been going on for around 30 years at the automaker, underscoring growing aspersions about inherently lax corporate governance and shop floor oversights and malpractice at some of Japan's bellwether manufacturers.
Saikawa in talks with Ishii on Monday was told both verbally and in writing that Nissan would continue to be under government surveillance for the foreseeable future.