Nissan Motor Co. Executive Vice President Daniele Schillaci bows before his presentation during the media preview of the Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Nissan executive bows to apologize for inspections scandal

October 25, 2017 - 1:00 am

TOKYO (AP) — Nissan Executive Vice President Daniele Schillaci bowed deeply for several seconds in a Japanese-style apology Wednesday, expressing his remorse for widespread illegal inspections at the automaker.

"I would like to take this opportunity to express a sincere apology for our recent issues," he said at the Nissan Motor Co. booth at the Tokyo Motor Show. "We sincerely regret any inconvenience and concern this has caused our valued customers."

This year's show highlights smart and green vehicles that talk, connect online and stop on their own before crashes. But scandals surfacing within weeks of the auto show, including another one at Kobe Steel that's hit the entire industry, are casting a shadow over the festivities.

Reporters got a preview of the show at Tokyo Big Sight hall, ahead of its opening to the public Saturday.

Schillaci switched from his nearly tearful apology to an upbeat demeanor after a resonating electronic beep — the special sound called Canto, designed for Nissan electric cars to protect pedestrians. Electric cars are extremely quiet compared to gas-engine cars, and people have complained about not being aware of their approaching.

"What you just heard is the sound of the future," he said, proceeding happily with his presentation on automated driving and electric sports cars.

Taking center stage at the Nissan booth was a sleek zero-emissions electric "concept" car, billed as "Nissan intelligent mobility." It comes with surrounding 360-degree sensors capability from radars, cameras, lasers and sonars, to deliver accident-free driving as well as a future in which the car will drive itself home after dropping its owner off, according to Schillaci.

This nation has suffered a series of auto scandals in recent years, including a massive recall of defective air-bags made by Japanese supplier Takata Corp. The ongoing recall affects some 100 million air-bag inflators globally. The defect has been linked to 19 deaths and dozens of injuries. The global industry has also been rocked by a scandal at Volkswagen AG of Germany over cars it had illegally rigged to cheat on U.S. emissions tests.

Nissan, allied with Renault SA of France, acknowledged last month inspection irregularities had been going on for years at its plants in Japan, with the final checks being routinely done by unauthorized staff.

To make matters worse, shortly after it apologized, Nissan said the illegal checks had continued. It has halted production in Japan for the domestic market until it can figure out how a recurrence can be prevented.

Nissan company officials say the practice was so ingrained that change was hard. Better communication is needed among managers, and production will not resume until the government gives its approval, they said. Thousands of cars will have to be re-inspected.

"We have formed an investigative team with a third party, which is working hard to find out what happened and why," Schallaci said, stressing that efforts were underway "to prevent a recurrence."

The other scandal, over the falsification of data at Kobe Steel, was so widespread it stunned the public. It spanned aluminum, copper and other materials as well as steel, affecting some 500 companies including major automakers around the world and aircraft, electronics and railway sectors.

Toyota Motor Corp. Executive Vice President Didier Leroy said Toyota was looking into aluminum plates and other Kobe Steel components used in its models and had found no safety or quality problems so far.

"We were very worried," he told reporters. "We deeply apologize to our customers."

He declined to comment on Nissan's scandal, but stressed all inspections are being carried out according to regulation at Toyota by qualified inspectors.

Leroy also denied the scandals were a diversion to Toyota's ability to develop zero-emissions and smart models. He also denied a relatively common criticism that Japan may be falling behind in such auto technology.

The U.S. initiative aims to bring self-driving cars on the roads, involving big players like Google, General Motors and Uber, possibly in five to 10 years, analysts say.

Such intensifying competition means the Japanese has no time to waste on cleaning up after scandals.

"Introduction of self-driving cars will lead to new business models," said Bart Selman, professor of computer science at Cornell University, adding that the Japanese could catch up with rivals if they moved quickly.

"This means the space is very competitive. There will quite likely be just a few surviving companies to handle all demand."

U.S. automakers, such as General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., are skipping the show. They have long struggled in the Japanese market, dominated by the domestic brands.

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AP Business Writer Yuri Kageyama can be reached at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

Her work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/yuri%20kageyama

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