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Japanese Gov’t Urges Automakers to Tighten Quality Checks With AM-Japan-Recall, Bjt

December 7, 1989

TOKYO (AP) _ Despite their reputation for high standards, so many Japanese cars have been recalled to repair defects this year that the government gave automakers an unusual warning Thursday to keep a closer eye on quality.

The Transport Ministry gave the caution at a bimonthly meeting with executives of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association following a recall of Toyota’s new luxury Lexus cars in the United States this week.

″It’s unusual for us to make such a warning,″ said a Transport Ministry official. ″But there were problems that we couldn’t ignore this time.

″Since foreign automakers make such recalls more often, Toyota’s Lexus case wouldn’t damage the company’s image that much ... I hope,″ he added.

Toyota recalled all 8,000 of its Lexus LS400 Luxury automobiles in the United States. It is working to limit the damage to its image caused by the recall of the $35,000 car that went on sale three months ago to try to cut into the shares of Mercedes Benz, BMW and others in the U.S. luxury car market.

The warning on quality control was given to representatives of Nissan and Honda, the current executives in the automakers association, and they were expected to pass it along to other companies, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

When asked about the warning, the manufacturers association said: ″We have nothing to say as long as each company uses a recall system in line with the Transport Ministry’s guidance.″

Since September, recalls in Japan have involved Nissan Motor Co.‘s Silvia, Bluebird and 180SX models; Daihatsu Motor Co.’s Charade and Applause; and eight Toyota models. In each case, poor quality in auto parts caused malfunctions shortly after the new cars hit the streets.

On Dec. 1, Toyota’s subsidiary in the United States recalled the Lexus voluntarily after defects were found in the cruise-control mechanism and the brake light in the rear window. It also said an alternator cable that connects to the battery would be checked. The cars had been produced between May and October, said Shuji Okabe, a company spokesman.

He said Toyota had notified the U.S. government about the defects.

Fumio Matsuda, spokesman for the Japan Automobile Consumer Union, said the officially reported cases ″are only the tip of the iceberg.″

He said there had been no decline in Japanese technology, but frequent model changes allow automakers little time to check the quality of new cars.

″Recalls are the result of overwhelming competition,″ Matsuda said.

He also said the Transport Ministry has loose rules concerning defects, contributing to persistent quality problems.

The ministry does not require automakers to report defects and recall cars until they find out causes and remedies.

In September, the ministry warned Toyota for delaying too long in recalling 200,000 cars in Japan to repair an engine problem.

Toyota spokesman Hiroshi Hashimoto said the malfunctions had not always appeared when the cars were tested, but he conceded, ″It took us too long to decide whether we should handle the defect as a recall or to repair (the cars) individually as a service to customers.″

In October, Nissan recalled nearly 38,000 cars in Japan, which cost the company $6 million, a Nissan official said. The problem was a lack of durability in a flywheel, part of the clutch mechanism in manual-transmission cars, he said.

Nissan’s 240SX model, the U.S. version of the Silvia, had no problem because it has a different engine, he said.

Daihatsu recalled its new Charade and Applause compact models in November due to brake and fuel tank problems. About 2,500 Charades and 3,200 Applauses already had been exported to the United States and Europe, Daihatsu said.

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