Image: Koji Sasahara (AP)

Like Nissan, Subaru is in hot water for having unqualified staff signing off on final vehicle inspections. This is a big deal in Japan, where authorities ordered Subaru to conduct an investigation. That investigation, the company said in a release Friday, revealed that employees meddled with fuel economy and emissions quality control results.

On December 22, 2017, three days after receiving the results of Subaru’s initial investigation dealing with improperly trained staff signing off on final inspections, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism told Subaru to investigate “allegations of fuel economy and emissions data manipulation.”

In a report released last Friday, Subaru describes what it found in two of its plants in Japan, saying:

In sampling fuel economy and emissions data as part of the final vehicle inspections at the Gunma Manufacturing Division’s Main Plant and Yajima Plant, certain measurements and data were inappropriately altered, and values differing from those that should have been recorded as actual measurement results were recorded in monthly reports.

The release says that such fuel economy and emissions sampling is part of Subaru’s internal process, which dictates that average values “for a certain number of vehicles or for a certain period of time” be measured against internal benchmarks “as a means of quality control for both fuel economy and emissions.”

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The problem that Subaru discovered in its investigation is that the inspectors doing the fuel economy and emissions sampling were being told by their bosses to alter measured values “if results for each vehicle did not meet...standards.” Inspectors followed orders, and monthly reports included falsified data.

The company goes on, saying that from “at least” December, 2012 to November, 2017, just over 900 vehicles’ data out of 6,939 measured (out of which only 6,530 vehicles’ data could be found in their system) had their data “inappropriately altered.”

Subaru says it doesn’t have fuel economy and emissions data from farther back than November, 2012, but according to discussions with employees, “there is a high probability that such manipulation of fuel economy and emissions data commenced around 2002.”

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The company describes how the manipulation occurred. “Alterations were decided by factory-floor inspectors and foremen (who manage a group consisting of several inspectors),” the release says, “and alteration methods were passed from senior to junior inspectors in the relevant workplaces.” Group Chiefs were also allegedly aware of the alternations going on with the sampling of fuel economy and emissions data.

According to the release, inspectors fudged the numbers even if the cars passed the internal QC standards in order to reduce “variance in measurement values in order to avoid questions from the Group Chiefs and the Section Chief on such variance.” Interestingly, Subaru says that “alterations were made not only to make results better, but also to make them worse.”

The company mentions that it’s technically legal to alter fuel economy and emissions results during inspection when there are issues with measurement equipment, but that insufficient training and lack of appropriate rules in the plant meant inspectors misinterpreted which alterations were legal. “Inspectors altered measurement values by adjustment methods not stipulated in the relevant laws and regulations, without understanding that their methods were inappropriate,” Subaru states.

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It’s worth noting that Subaru says the falsified data did not actually cause any vehicles that did not pass the company’s quality control checks to be sold:

[...Subaru] objectively confirmed that the original measurement values were in certain range of values. Subaru used the worst value in such range to recalculate values necessary for quality control purposes, and re-verify whether such values meet the internal quality control standards. This resulted in all 903 vehicles for which data had been altered meeting quality control standards.

What’s more, the company doesn’t have to recall any vehicles. “Since Subaru’s quality control standards are stricter than those stipulated in the Safety Standards,” the company goes on, “there were no data alterations that would require recalls or present other quality issues.“

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So, reading through the press release, this whole scandal seems quite different from VW’s elaborate software-based diesel cheating, FCA’s failure to disclose auxiliary emissions control devices on its 3.0-liter diesel, or even Mitsubishi’s fiddling with tire pressures to alter fuel economy figures. This seems like an internal quality control check whose numbers were fudged so as to not have to deal with the stress of having to flag these cars to the higher-ups. It doesn’t look like any “dirty” cars that shouldn’t have been sold made it to market.

“Subaru’s management and employees will work collectively,” the press release concludes, “to restore lost trust and ensure that such circumstances do not recur.”