Japanese officials raid Toyota group plant to investigate claims of cheating on tests

Allegations come as company reports it kept its status as the world's top car maker in 2023, selling 11.2 million vehicles

Toyota Motor chairman Akio Toyoda apologised over the allegations involving testing on Tuesday, in Nagoya. Getty Images
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Japanese transport officials raided the plant of a Toyota group company on Tuesday to investigate cheating on engine testing, as the company reported it kept its status as the world’s top car maker in 2023, selling 11.2 million vehicles.

Hours after the probe began at Toyota Industries' plant in Hekinan, Aichi Prefecture, central Japan, Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda vowed to steer the company out of scandal and ensure the Japanese car maker sticks to “making good cars.”

“My job is to steer the way for where the overall group should go,” Mr Toyoda said.

He apologised, bowing deeply, and stressed the group vision was rooted in the Toyoda founding family’s ideas of empowering the “genba,” or the workers on the plant floor, “to make good cars that lead to people’s happiness”.

The testing scandal comes at a time of otherwise stellar performance for Toyota, which makes the Camry sedan, Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury models.

Its group global vehicle sales for 2023 were a record 11.22 million units, up 7 per cent from the previous year and topping Volkswagen of Germany’s global sales of 9.2 million vehicles.

Toyoda spoke in a news conference that was live streamed from a memorial hall in Nagoya that serves as a museum for the founding family. Sakichi Toyoda invented the automated weaving loom. His son Kiichiro Toyoda, Akio’s grandfather, founded Toyota Motor.

Reporters were called late Monday to Toyota's Tokyo office, where its chief executive Koji Sato, who succeeded Toyoda, apologised for the latest mess: flawed testing at Toyota Industries, which makes diesel engines.

That followed the discovery due to a whistleblower that Daihatsu Motor had been cheating on its testing for decades. Daihatsu makes small cars and is 100 per cent owned by Toyota.

In 2022, Hino Motors, a lorry maker that's also part of the Toyota group, said it had systematically falsified emissions data dating back as far as 2003.

No major accidents have been reported in connection with any of the cheating. But production has been halted on some of the models, including the 10 models affected by the latest cheating.

Japan’s business daily Nikkei reported the alleged breaches at Toyota Industries occurred because management would not listen to workers who had questioned an overly aggressive development plan for engines.

Mr Sato has acknowledged Toyota group companies need better communication and education about the importance of complying with rules.

The latest problem affects models including Land Cruiser and Hilux sport utility vehicles sold in Japan, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, but not in North America.

Such missteps often occur due to pressures to bring down costs, said Daisuke Uchida, a professor at Keio University who specialises in corporate governance.

“Something may have gotten lost in translation in the communication between management and those working on the ground,” Mr Uchida said.

Analysts say the impact on Toyota’s earnings from the group companies’ problems is likely to be limited because their sales and profits are a small fraction of Toyota's overall global earnings.

Toyoda did not present a concrete plan for action but instead mused on the humble roots of his family business and the importance of believing in invention.

Toyota has weathered turbulent times in the past, he said. “We must never lose sight of where we all began.”

Updated: January 30, 2024, 10:30 AM