TOKYO – Nissan denied South Korean claims that it faked emissions figures in its UK-built Qashqai SUV diesel models.
The government's environment ministry said it would fine Nissan $279,920 and order a recall of the 814 new Qashqai vehicles sold in the country so far.
The ministry said it believed Nissan had used a so-called defeat device in Qashqai to turn off its exhaust reduction system under regular driving temperatures.
The ministry today said it would fine Nissan 330 million won ($279,920), and order a recall of the 814 new Qashqai vehicles sold in the country so far.
The vehicles were built at Nissan's plant in Sunderland, England. The ministry said its investigation applied to new Qashqai models with Euro 6 engines and that it would test older models with Euro 5 engines.
The ministry also plans to file a complaint against Takehiko Kikuchi, the head of Nissan Korea, with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office.
Nissan said its vehicles are properly homologated under Korean standards and that it is cooperating with authorities.
"Nissan has not and does not employ illegal defeat or cheat devices in any of the cars that we make," the carmaker said in a statement. "Following stringent testing and using similar standards to the Korean tests, EU authorities have concluded that Nissan vehicles they tested used no illegal defeat device."
Nissan has about 100 days to dispute the charges and is considering its next steps, a spokesman said.
South Korea launched an investigation of diesel vehicles sold domestically in the wake of Volkswagen Group's emissions misconduct. The government tested 20 diesel vehicles after VW admitting using a defeat device to cheat emissions tests in 11 million vehicles sold worldwide.
The government's announcement also comes on the heels of a separate scandal in Japan, where Mitsubishi Motor Corp. admitted rigging fuel economy tests to make some cars appear more efficient than they really are.
Amid the domestic backlash against Mitsubishi, which triggered tumbling sales and rising costs, Nissan said last week it would aid Mitsubishi by buying a 34 percent stake in the company.
Investors in Nissan shares seemed to have shrugged off the South Korean government claims, with the automaker's shares in Tokyo ending up 0.5 percent, in line with the broader market.
"It's too early to judge in terms of what the impact on the brand is. Nissan denied any wrongdoing. It's not a huge number," said Koji Endo, senior auto analyst at Advanced Research Japan.
James Chao, Asia-Pacific managing director at IHS Automotive, said the risk for Nissan was that the issue could snowball. "But the fact that they've come out so strongly in their denial might mean they may have a strong case. In this time of hypersensitivity about it, it certainly doesn't do them well to come out so strongly just to backtrack," he said.
There is some speculation that Nissan may sell the UK-built Qashqai in the U.S. as a smaller and more fuel-efficient version of the Rogue crossover. The move would help Nissan tap booming U.S. demand for smaller SUVs.
Reuters contributed to this report