There seems to be no respite for the automotive sector going through a series of massive scandals. The smoke from the Volkswagen's emission scandal and Takata's airbag failure hadn't settled down yet and another Japanese company Kobe Steel is now in the news for having supplied falsely labelled metals to carmakers such as Toyota and Nissan. According to Automotive News, Kobe Steel fudged data regarding the strength and durability of certain aluminium and copper products used in cars of Toyota and Nissan. Both Japanese carmakers are presently checking as to what difference the compromised metal has made to the overall safety of the cars. The problem, however, doesn't stop here as the falsely labelled metal was also used in aircrafts and possibly even in a space rocket. Failure of any metal panel in an aircraft or a rocket can result in a disaster of a much larger scale than a car.
The report from Automotive News goes on to say that Kobe Steel accepted that around four percent of the aluminium and copper products shipped between September 2016 and August 2017 were falsely labelled to be meeting the demands of customers.
Toyota has acknowledged the development as a serious issue and is identifying the vehicles affected by it. The metal in question was used by Toyota in hoods, rear doors and peripheral areas in vehicles made only in Japanese factories and not elsewhere. Nissan too used the metal in hoods and is checking for the affected cars as this might affect pedestrian safety. The usage of this questionable metal isn't limited to two automakers only.
Kobe Steel said that the aluminium castings and forgings in question were delivered to more than 200 companies in the period between September 2016 and August 2017. However, the company didn't disclose the names of all the affected customers.
While automakers figure out the affected vehicles and the extent of safety hazard raised by usage of this material, the larger question is why has there been a sudden spurt in automotive scandals lately? Moreover, almost all scandals are epically biblical in terms of human as well as monetary effect. So who really is cheating with people buying one of their most valuable assets in life? Carmakers is what many might think or would like to think but that doesn't seem to be the case. The episode in discussion is purely caused by Kobe Steel, a supplier to the affected carmakers. In the Takata airbags case too it was a supplier that intentionally supplied faulty parts to carmakers.
At this point, you might want to say that Volkswagen was different and yes, VW's scandal was self-created. However, one also needs to consider that their emission scandal was a grave threat to the environment but not an immediate threat to the safety of their customers. It's highly unlikely that any carmaker would intentionally make a compromise that has an immediate and measurable impact on a person's safety as laws in most countries would hamper the sustainability of such business.
At this point, one would think the larger blame herein lies with the suppliers as it is at their point that such lapses are taking place. The reality though is different as any automotive supplier's future is directly tied to its customers, the carmakers and hence it would be very unlikely of them to intentionally cheat quality standards.
So where is the gap then and who really is responsible for leaving thousands of car buyers left cheated after such scandals? No, it's not entirely down to certain short-sighted individuals in high positions only. The reason such individuals are able to pull off scandals is that the system of manufacturing in the global automotive industry is largely the same and quite old now despite constant updation. The key reason for this is that the pace of change in technology in the last decade or so has been faster than ever and more importantly, it has been quicker than the present validation/ verification systems can handle in the automotive sector.
Carmakers and suppliers along with validation agencies need to revisit present protocols and redefine or modify them in order to further reduce the occurrences of errors due to human intervention. As the world heads towards electric cars and autonomous vehicles, our dependency on electronics is going to increase by a larger margin in the next 10 years than the cumulative growth since the use of electronics in vehicles. Such dependency on electronics can have grave safety issues in case of even a small malfunction at times.
The bottom line is that customer trust in carmakers will start to decline if such scandals are not checked quickly. It is imperative that all stakeholders in the automotive sector come together to form new policies across various functions to ensure defects cannot pass through, The automobile has always been one of the most trusted machines in the world. Where else would you find a case of a person paying millions to buy a mid-engined car and sit on top of an engine that has got thousands of controlled explosions going on inside it? No other place I guess and carmakers being the face of this trust need to ensure scandals are put to rest and malpractices are curbed despite the pressures of a business and responsibility towards shareholders.