Kobe Steel wins respite but future remains uncertain

tatement regarding impact of Kobe Steel quality issue on Toyota and Lexus vehicles

The metals and equipment maker said late Tuesday that it would "sincerely cooperate" with an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The tampering went back more than 10 years, a source told Reuters earlier this week.

Most of the problems have occurred in the company's aluminum and copper business, where numerous products are made to specifications required by automakers and other companies.

It said it had reviewed three years' worth of aluminum purchases from Kobe Steel and would continue its examination.

In a statement, Toyota stated that it was working to recognize whether non-aluminum items provided by Kobe Steel, which are used in the automaker' Toyota- and Lexus-branded vehicles, will likewise meet the standards.

"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.

"We can not confirm the Nikkei report as our investigation is ongoing", a Kobe Steel spokesman said.

Nonetheless, the company's fate hangs in the balance while checks are being carried out. Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has also asked the company for a report on the scandal including causes and remedies.

Last week saw Kobe's stock value collapse 41 percent as investors rushed to punish the latest instance of corporate malfeasance in Japan, after similar misconduct around data at companies such as Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Asahi Kasei Corp. This becomes somewhat more alarming when you learn that these clients include producers of such little things as airplanes, space rockets, Japan's magnetic bullet trains, and, of course, auto manufacturers.

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"Where alternative suppliers are available, it is recommended to suspend use of Kobe Steel products until the legitimacy of the affected parts can be determined", EASA said in a Safety Information Bulletin (SIB) dated October 17.

The former employee, who worked at the steel maker's aluminum and copper division in the 1990s, said the memos passed down in the division outlined how far products could deviate from agreed-upon specifications without causing noticeable issues. "There is no excuse for it. (Kobe Steel) has crossed a line that should not be crossed by a manufacturer", he said.

There was no manual providing guidance to staff on cheating product specifications, a senior Kobe Steel executive told reporters, on condition of anonymity.

Kobe Steel CEO Hiroya Kawasaki said last week that public trust in his company had "fallen to zero".

It also counts amongst its former employees Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who worked at Kobe Steel from 1979 before entering politics in the early 80s and who has pushed Japanese companies to embrace worldwide corporate governance standards.

Lloyd's Register Quality Assurance Ltd and Japan Quality Assurance Organization said they may suspend or cancel ISO9001 certification of Kobe Steel's plants or subsidiary, if they do not meet the standard.

A Kobe Steel executive said late on Wednesday that the company expected to issue a new safety inspection report as early as next week. The meeting will share information but its final scope and start date have not been finalised.

Two railways that operate Shinkansen "bullet trains" in Japan that contain metal produced by Kobe Steel have already said their trains are safe.


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