TOKYO — The weighty government regulations that cause foreign automakers to grumble in Japan have bitten one of the country's biggest domestic players.
Nissan Motor Co. said last week it will recall more than 1.2 million vehicles in Japan — a callback encompassing virtually every passenger car the company produced for sale in Japan over the last three years.
Nissan's factory crime? About 20 of the 320 inspectors that Nissan had doing final quality checks at its six Japanese assembly plants did not have correct certification for the work, as stipulated by the country's powerful Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
Nissan will reinspect every vehicle.
CEO Hiroto Saikawa said the oversight could cost Nissan ¥25 billion ($221.7 million), although the exact cost is still unknown. Nissan is also investigating how it happened.
The blunder underscores how easy it can be to run afoul of Japan's automotive regulations, which dictate every detail from vehicle noise to vehicle recycling procedures. While the directives are often seen as discouraging importers, they also affect home-market manufacturers.
The rule that tripped up Nissan requires special certification for final quality-check inspectors. The transport ministry requires companies to do in-house training and certification. Nissan trains those inspectors for three months, but the uncertified ones got only one, Japan's Nikkei business daily reported.
The ministry doesn't specify how many months of training are necessary for certification, said Masao Notsu, director of the ministry's type approval and recall division. But the ministry is investigating whether Nissan broke the law by not following its in-house guidelines, Notsu said.
The rule applies only to vehicles being sold in Japan. Vehicles made in Japan but exported to the U.S. or other markets aren't being recalled.
Cars shipped to Japan get their own pre-delivery inspections at import centers near the docks.
Most of Nissan's inspectors had proper certification. But rather than find the sliver of affected cars, Nissan is calling back all vehicles made between October 2014 and last month.
The transport ministry found the problem during a random inspection of an assembly plant on Sept. 18, Nissan said. Government visitors were not tipped off by a whistleblower, the company added.