TOKYO -- Three Japanese automakers confirmed the safety of aluminum components made by Kobe Steel, allaying some concerns that Kobe's falsified quality data had compromised the safety of the products.
Kobe Steel, Japan's No. 3 steelmaker, admitted earlier this month to falsifying the quality data for aluminum and copper products and even optical disks. The falsifications may stretch back for 10 years. Since then, global automakers, aircraft companies and other manufacturers have scrambled to identify potential hazards in their products.
Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp. said Thursday that hoods and other exterior parts used in their cars which were made from aluminum directly supplied by Kobe Steel were safe, prompting a 5 percent jump in Kobe Steel shares.
"We confirmed that the materials satisfy applicable statutory standards, and our own internal standard, for key safety and durability requirements for vehicles," Toyota said in a statement.
Toyota, one of the world's largest automakers, identified aluminum plates supplied by Kobe Steel for the hoods and rear hatches of Toyota and Lexus brand vehicles. While outside the automaker's specifications, they were still safe to use.
The aluminum is supplied in sheets, and used by automakers to press into exterior parts. Aluminum has become an increasingly popular material for automakers to use in body parts as the material is lighter than steel, which can improve fuel efficiency.
The automakers said that they were checking to see how the safety and durability of other components sourced from suppliers which use Kobe Steel products would be affected by the falsifications.
While other firms including Nissan Motor said they were still investigating the effect on their vehicles, the announcements by Toyota, Honda and Mazda suggest that Kobe Steel's cheating scandal may have a limited impact on product safety.
Nonetheless, the company's fate hangs in the balance while checks are being carried out. It must report to Japan's industry ministry by around the end of next week on any safety concerns and provide a more extensive account of the problems a fortnight later.
Industry leaders have reached a consensus that Kobe Steel is in a "serious situation," a senior Japanese manufacturing executive told Reuters on Thursday.
"For a manufacturer, quality control is the most important thing and they were cheating for many years. This was a shock to their customers, who can no longer trust Kobe Steel," he said.
This was the view of Japanese industry leaders, even though no safety issues have so far been identified, the executive said.
Kobe Steel customers will seek compensation for the cost of replacements and checks but "I do not think they are leaning toward lawsuits," he said, adding as far as he had heard there will be no recalls.
Overseas customers, especially those in the U.S., present more of a threat though, in light of the Justice Department investigation.
"I would think there will demands for quite a bit of compensation (from U.S. companies)," he said.
In Europe, aviation safety authorities earlier this week issued a directive advising aircraft manufacturers to avoid using Kobe Steel products if they can until checks are completed.
Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is planning to probe the safety of automobiles, trains and planes using Kobe Steel products, a ministry spokesman said on Thursday. The meeting will share information but its final scope and start date have not been finalized.
Toyota sources aluminum plates, copper tubes, steel wires and other products directly from Kobe Steel. The company also sources products from its suppliers which contain steel powder, copper tubes and other materials made by Kobe.