Photo/IllutrationSubaru Corp. executives, including company president Tomomi Nakamura, center, respond to questions at a news conference in Tokyo on Sept. 28. (Soichiro Yamamoto)

  • Photo/Illustraion

For the first time, a Japanese automaker has admitted to falsifying data directly related to the safety of its cars.

Executives of Subaru Corp. held a news conference on Sept. 28 at which they announced that data falsification extended to tests of brakes and the steering system of its vehicles. In June, the automaker revealed additional cases in which it had used inappropriate test data for the exhaust levels and fuel-efficiency of its cars.

Other automakers have also admitted to faking tests on their vehicles, but Subaru is the first to admit to fabrications involving the safety functions of its cars.

While the company said it does not intend to implement a recall of the affected cars, the transport ministry will conduct an investigation of Subaru to determine if any problems have emerged connected to vehicle safety.

After the earlier admission of falsifying data on exhaust levels and fuel-efficiency, Subaru asked outside lawyers to look into testing at the company. A report by those lawyers was submitted on Sept. 28 to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

The report found irregularities at Subaru's Gunma Manufacturing Division in Ota, Gunma Prefecture. In particular, the data falsification occurred for the testing of all cars assembled at the Gunma plant, which is the only domestic facility to produce road-ready cars.

The investigation found that different measurement methods were used when initial data did not meet in-house standards.

For example, in order to confirm the braking ability of rear wheels, inspectors chose to apply not only the brakes, the normal procedure, but also the parking brake at the same time. Conversely, on tests for the parking brake, the foot brake was also activated to improve the braking ability.

More primitive steps were taken when problems emerged with the steering system of a car. If the tires did not turn in tandem with company standards, the assembly line workers responsible for okaying the safety of each vehicle used their hands to push either the tires or the car body so that movement would be sufficient to match the standard.

The lawyers questioned test inspectors, and some said the data falsification went as far back as 1997. However, the investigators said it was difficult to determine how many vehicles had data falsified or how long that falsification continued because sufficient test data records were unavailable.

Subaru President Tomomi Nakamura held a news conference on Sept. 28 and apologized for damaging consumer trust and tarnishing the company brand.

At the same time, he insisted that no safety problems arose with Subaru cars as no safety standards as defined in the Road Transport Vehicles Law were violated. One reason given for that confidence was a random test of cars at a rate of one in 100 vehicles that is conducted separately. No problems with the brakes were found in those random tests.

But it was those random tests for which data was falsified regarding exhaust levels and fuel-efficiency.

On Sept. 28, Subaru revised the number of vehicles for which data was falsified to 1,869, 318 more than the figure released in June.

Subaru initially said it would release a report by early July, but that was delayed by almost three months.

(This article was written by Shun Niekawa and Katsunori Takahashi.)