Photo/IllutrationFormer Nissan Motor Co. President Carlos Gohsn at a ceremony to mark the start of production of the Nissan Note at the Oppama Plant in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, in October 2016. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Rampant cheating in Nissan Motor Co.’s final vehicle inspections was likely a consequence of management’s failure to provide adequate staffing amid rapid production increases, according to a report on the scandal obtained by The Asahi Shimbun.

The report, compiled by a third-party investigative committee, also contains testimonies saying that officials in charge of examinations to certify inspectors oversaw routine cheating in a rush to increase inspector numbers.

It noted that Nissan managers did not fully understand the importance of the official inspections, which are conducted on behalf of the government. Some managers did not even know how many authorized inspectors they had at each factory.

While some workers testified that inspection cheating had been a common practice since the 1980s, many in the report cited staff shortages stemming from recent expansion of production at Japanese factories as the main reason for the dishonest operation.

Production of the popular Note model was transferred to the Oppama plant in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, in autumn 2016 as part of the company’s policy to increase production in Japan. The plant changed its operations from daytime-only to a day and night shift system, causing a shortage of certified inspectors.

The extra work was seen by bosses as an opportunity to reinvigorate the plant’s dwindled production line, and they thought they could not refuse it just because they lacked a sufficient number of inspectors, the report said.

After the new system was introduced, instances where uncertified staff engaged in the final inspections increased. Some certified inspectors purchased spares of personal seals that are used to sign off vehicle inspection checklists, and provided them to uncertified inspectors to pretend the inspections had been done by their authorized colleagues.

At Nissan Shatai Co.’s Shonan plant in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, many employees said that the shortage of inspectors was caused by the introduction of the two-shift system, which was officially rolled out in September 2017.

“The company says ‘reduce staff to cut costs,’” a worker at the Shonan plant was quoted as saying. “We pushed the boundaries to meet the demand.”

At other factories around Japan, many pointed to the retirement of a large number of baby boomers in recent years as the reason for the inspector shortage.

The report exposed that management had failed to provide adequate staffing for the final inspection checkups, even though it carries out the highly responsible task on behalf of the Japanese government.

Furthermore, other damning testimonies revealed that examiners for the inspectors’ certification exam often helped candidates to pass the test to mitigate the inspector shortage.

Dishonest practices included examiners informing examinees of questions beforehand, showing them answers while they were completing papers, handing out question and answer sheets at the same time, and leaving answer sheets unattended while leaving the room during exams.

Based on the report, Nissan will compile a business improvement plan and soon submit it to the transport ministry.

The company restarted production at five of its six Japanese plants on Nov. 7 for the first time since production for the domestic market was halted about two weeks ago, saying the improved inspection system had been implemented. Production remained stalled at a plant in Kyoto.

However, following the proper process has significantly slowed down production.

(This article was written by Yoshitaka Ito and Naoatsu Aoyama.)