Mitsubishi Motors Corp., raided three times by the transport ministry over its decades-long fuel economy scandal, could be searched again by the regulator as a planned rescue by Nissan Motor Co. falls behind schedule.
The ministry may raid Mitsubishi Motors’ offices a fourth time if the evidence collected during its latest inspection isn’t enough to fully understand the scope of the automaker’s misdeeds, said Yuki Ebihara, an official in the regulator’s recall division. Another search also may be warranted if the ministry’s findings point to bigger problems, he said.
“You can’t deny the company has a culture that’s prone to malpractice,” Ebihara said in a phone interview. “Compared with other makers, we have to give them a closer look.” Yuki Murata, an MMC spokesman, said the company regrets that its scandal has led to distrust and will cooperate with the ministry’s investigation.
The possibility of another raid underscores how Mitsubishi Motors has struggled to move past a scandal that emerged four months ago, when it admitted to improperly measuring fuel economy and manipulating testing data. A mea culpa by Chairman Osamu Masuko led to the carmaker’s planned rescue by Nissan, which has continued with due diligence it aimed to complete last month on the purchase of a $2.2 billion stake.
Nissan expects to close its deal with MMC before the end of the year and remains convinced of the merits of the transaction, Nick Maxfield, a spokesman for the Yokohama-based company, said by email.
The transport ministry is reviewing documents obtained Sept. 2 from Mitsubishi Motors’ head office in Tokyo and its research and development center in Aichi Prefecture, Ebihara said. The regulator is also holding hearings with Mitsubishi Motors executives including Masuko, 67, to get to the bottom of the company’s wrongdoing.
Three days before its latest raid, the ministry said eight of the nine MMC models it tested fell short of the company’s advertised fuel economy figures. The regulator tested the models itself after MMC provided recalculated mileage figures to the ministry on May 18 that were still inaccurate.
Nissan Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn stepped up with plans to buy a 34 percent controlling stake in Mitsubishi Motors in May, after the scandal had led the company’s shares to plunge more than 40 percent. Two minicars Mitsubishi Motors produces for Nissan through a joint venture were among the models that initiated the company’s woes in April.
Mitsubishi Motors named former Nissan executive Mitsuhiko Yamashita to revamp its R&D department and help prevent a recurrence of misconduct from June 24. Ghosn also assigned Chief Competitive Officer Hiroto Saikawa to lead a team finding ways the two companies could save costs and boost production efficiency.
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