Nissan’s nothingburger scandal

Outrage! Nakai-san (left) doesn’t bow the full 70 degrees! (c) Bertel Schmitt

I am just coming home from a most bewildering press conference. There are 253 cars out there, I was told today, where the horn may be a tad louder, or the body a millimeter wider than what’s in the catalogue. I had to go all the way to Yokohama to hear this. Europe is in the grips of wholesale dieselgate-cheating. America’s smallest carmaker with the biggest share of voice, Tesla, makes cars so bad that there are hit parades of problems with its Model 3. Not to be left out, Japan created its own problem, and it seems to be Nissan, the people who’s press conference I visited this afternoon. The weather was O.K. when I left, but heaven cried when I went home.  

Today, three dour-looking gentlemen, dressed in the internationally accepted uniform of undertakers, presented to the media Nissan’s “Report to the Japanese Ministry of Land and Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism on misconduct in sample testing within the final vehicle inspection process at plants in Japan.”  In the interest of not wasting your time more than absolutely necessary, let’s just state that unless someone is messing up real bad real soon, good old Japan is in imminent danger of being left behind as far as industrial-strength misconduct goes.

The report and the attendant introspection was the outgrow of last year’s tempest in a teapot, when it came to light that some Nissan quality testers had only two months training instead of the three months it says in the book. Actually, my sources tell me, the scandal became a scandal only after people at Nissan didn’t award the proper level of respect to government officials. After all, this is Japan, and not America, where you can hang up on an NHTSA chief, and keep your reproductive organs doing it.  Outside of Japan, nobody batted an eye at Nissan, but at home, media conflated Kobe Steel with Nissan Motors, and painted a picture of sinking quality in the land of the rising sun. The matter decreased Nissan’s production rate by 4%, and to this day, Nissan’s Japan factories are closed to outsiders, even schoolchildren must take their field trips elsewhere.

This afternoon in Yokohama, more acts of turpitude were revealed. We heard that occasionally, a brake fluid warning light went untested at Nissan. When a headlamp was not aiming in the proper direction, the headlamp aim shockingly was “readjusted to meet specifications,” instead of sending the car to the dumpster, I guess. Once in a while, Nissan customers received more car than they paid for: When a car was found to be 1,699 mm wide as opposed to the 1,698 mm in the catalog, Nissan’s quality inspectors outrageously passed the car. Sometimes, they closed their ears to the fact that a horn was one decibel louder than Nissan’s specs (but not too loud to upset Japan’s levels of tightly regulated politeness.) Unpardonably, external vehicle noise tests were carried out when the wind was blowing a bit harder than the prescribed 5 meters per second. It could be that 253 cars have been produced with these glaring faults, we were told today. Over what time span, nobody really knows.

All in all, the levels of misconduct were so egregious that the three dour-looking gentlemen had to bow twice to express their deepest regret. The second time, photographers left their usual spot in front of the podium and lined up on the side to catch the appropriate angle of contriteness.

Japan is said to have more words for bows than Eskimos for snow, and the Japanese shazai bow, which is widely regarded as one step before public disembowelment, must be 70 degrees, and held for 4 seconds, as per the specs by Japan’s Bureau of Standards and Morals. I could have sworn the bow of CVP Nakai Yoshikazu was only  69.5 degrees, and it is yet another outrage in an ongoing series of scandals.