Mitsubishi Stays in Crosshairs as Nissan Deal Falls Behind

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Mitsubishi Motors Stays in Japan's Crosshairs
  • Japan’s transport ministry says it may raid carmaker again
  • Nissan had planned to complete due diligence last month

Mitsubishi Motors Corp., raided three times by Japan’s 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 Mitsubishi Motors’ misdeeds, said Yuki Ebihara, an official within 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, a Mitsubishi Motors spokesman, said the company regrets that its scandal has led to distrust and will cooperate with the ministry’s investigation.

Mitsubishi Motors fell 0.4 percent to 497 yen in Tokyo, while Nissan climbed 0.4 percent. The benchmark Topix index slipped 0.2 percent.

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 for 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 Mitsubishi Motors before the end of the year and remains convinced of the merits of the transaction, Nick Maxfield, a spokesman for the Yokohama, Japan-based company, said by e-mail.

For more on Mitsubishi workers concerns about Nissan’s rescue, click here.

Japan’s 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 Mitsubishi Motors models it tested fell short of the company’s advertised fuel economy figures. The regulator tested the models itself after Mitsubishi 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 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.

Nissan has agreed to hold shares of Mitsubishi Motors for a period of 10 years once it buys the stake, according to a filing on Friday by Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc., which owns a stake in Mitsubishi Motors. Both Nissan and Mitsubishi group companies will have the first right of refusal to purchase any shares in the automaker if either decides to sell, it said.

Mitsubishi Motors named former Nissan executive Mitsuhiko Yamashita to revamp its research and development 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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