Nissan Motor Co. is suspected of fabricating documents at factories in Japan to make it appear as if certified inspectors had carried out final inspections on vehicles coming off the assembly line, sources said Wednesday.
A government probe found the automaker had used uncertified staff to check vehicles at all six of its domestic factories, prompting Nissan to announce a recall of more than 1.2 million cars in Japan manufactured since October 2014.
Records of inspections on vehicles showed that paperwork was stamped with different seals bearing the same name, the sources said. Such seals are used in a similar way to signatures to sign off on documents.
The finding suggests that the uncertified staff were handed the seals of certified inspectors to use in their place.
If the fabrication of paperwork did occur, it would mean Nissan intentionally sought to cover up the practice, rather than having overlooked regulations on inspectors’ qualifications.
Final checks usually involve teams of eight or so inspectors systematically going over each vehicle.
Officials at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism said they uncovered the substandard inspections while looking through factory records.
Officials first inspected a Nissan plant in Kanagawa Prefecture on Sept. 18, triggering an internal probe by the automaker. All six factories have now been examined by ministry officials, with the last two plants in Tochigi and Kyoto prefectures being investigated on Tuesday.
The company is also reinspecting 34,000 vehicles held in inventory at factories and dealerships before putting them on sale.
On Monday, Nissan president Hiroto Saikawa admitted that junior inspectors were performing tasks they were not certified to do, calling it a “very serious problem.”
“They were not one-off, accidental incidents,” he said, adding he was not sure how and when the practice started.
The vehicles affected were built between October 2014 and September 2017, the company said.
Saikawa said the company will spend at least a month to investigate what happened and that the recall could cost the firm around ¥25 billion ($222 million).
Vehicles produced before then were already subject to routine inspections.
Transport Minister Keiichi Ishii condemned Nissan on Tuesday, saying its actions “shake the foundation of safety check systems.”
Separately, industry minister Hiroshige Seko urged Nissan to do “whatever it can to ensure that serious worries and confusion won’t spread” among customers.
Nissan is already among a group of global automakers, including Toyota, General Motors and Volkswagen, hammered by a massive recall of air bags made by scandal-hit parts giant Takata.