Japanese automakers announced on Thursday that they have found no safety concerns with aluminum car parts supplied by Kobe Steel Ltd. The company has falsified quality standards for aluminum hoods and exterior components used in Japanese vehicles. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Mazda retested Kobe parts for strength and durability and confirmed that they still meet expected safety standards. While this is good news for drivers, the company remains under investigation in Japan, Europe, and the United States.
Kobe Steel confessed this month that it falsified the strength and durability data for aluminum, steel, and copper products used in cars, trains, planes, and rockets around the world. Falsely labeled products have been in circulation for over ten years. Japanese automakers and U.S. companies like Boeing have rushed to identify Kobe components and test them for potential risk. The steelmaker’s stock has plummeted, and the scandal has tainted Japan’s reputation for quality manufacturing. News that auto parts, while still subject to data falsification, appear to meet safety standards has pushed Kobe stock back up 7 percent.
Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Mazda had car hoods and exterior parts made with Kobe aluminum. Toyota confirmed that aluminum plates were outside of the automaker’s exact specifications but within the company’s safety margin. While reassuring, we suspect this won’t allay customer concerns that Toyota and Lexus models were built with literally substandard components during this period. At the same time, Subaru and other Japanese carmakers are continuing to test Kobe parts. If they find no serious safety concerns, the Kobe scandal may have a limited impact on the Japanese automotive industry. But consumer perception of Japanese products might not be the same if the scandal continues to appear in news headlines.