Section 1. Response to Recall Problems

Item 1. Recall Problems Emerge

The Japanese economy grew rapidly from the 1960s to 1970s, becoming by 1968 the second largest economy in the world after the United States by gross national product. The dream of a “prosperous society” became a reality as the quality of life for everyday Japanese people also dramatically improved. In the latter half of 1960s, the 3Cs-a car, a color television, and a cooler (air conditioning)-replaced the black-and-white television, the refrigerator, and the washing machine as the three must-have appliances and quickly became popular at households all across Japan. Meanwhile, consumer values, which had hitherto placed a high priority on growth, also underwent change as rising consumer prices, pollution, and a variety of problems associated with urbanization emerged.

As motorization progressed and the automobile worked its way into the lives of people everywhere, traffic accidents, congestion, and deterioration of the living environment gave way to a public reassessment of the automobile.

An increase in the number of traffic accidents was becoming a problem in the United States as well. In his 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed, attorney Ralph Nader criticized the notion that traffic accidents were primarily caused by the careless and unlawful behavior of drivers, citing numerous rollover accidents involving Corvair by General Motors Corporation (now General Motors Company), and asserted that safe car design should be held most-responsible for preventing accidents. He drew particular attention to the dangers of the second impact, in which the occupants of a vehicle collide with some part of their vehicle from the inside during an accident, and stressed the need for measures to deal with it.

Nader's book helped stoke public demand for better automotive safety in the United States, leading to the passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act in September 1966, and, in turn, the creation of the recall system. The new law required automakers to report structural defects found in their vehicles to the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Traffic Safety Agency1, notify car owners, and repair the defects or take other corrective actions.

Japan, meanwhile, had an inspection system that required vehicles to undergo a scheduled maintenance check every six months and an inspection once every two years (one year for trucks), meaning that all vehicles on the road were regularly inspected. As automakers never expected vehicles in the market or in use to have major defects, it was common practice for automakers, when discovering a defect, to notify car owners directly so they could have their vehicles fixed.

On June 1, 1969, the Asahi Shimbun ran an article titled "Why Are Japanese Carmakers Hiding Defects? - U.S. Newspapers Criticize Nissan, Toyota" at the top of its city news page. The article followed a story in The New York Times that stated Japanese and European automakers, when faced with recall problems in the United States, were following their own methods to recall and repair defected vehicles, without publicly announcing a recall. The story cited brake failure in the Toyota Corona and fuel leaks in the Nissan Bluebird as specific examples.2 The article galvanized the public to seek disclosure from the automotive industry, resulting in a string of recalls.

Japan's Ministry of Transport (now the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism) realized the importance of the situation and asked Toyota Motor Co., Ltd. and Nissan Motor Company to explain their circumstances. It also issued a notice to automotive companies instructing them to perform comprehensive inspections of vehicles already sold. On June 9, the Executive Committee of the Japan Automotive Manufacturers Association, Inc. (JAMA) resolved to use new organizations as necessary to inform users about defects, in addition to the conventional methods. On June 11, the companies reported the details of defective vehicles and recall methods to the Ministry of Transport, and on June 12 placed newspaper advertisements about the recalled vehicles. The Ministry of Transport, meanwhile, used the companies' reports to publish a list of vehicles recalled by the 12 member companies of JAMA on June 16.

To establish a recall system in Japan, in August 1969 the Ministry of Transport amended its regulations governing vehicle-type designations and outlined procedures in the case of defects arising from design or production, requiring automakers to publicize information on recalled vehicles.

The recall problem was a major test for the automotive industry, which had been growing steadily until then. As consumer activism gained momentum, companies in the automotive industry acquired a renewed awareness of the significance of automotive safety and quality problems and reaffirmed their understanding that the automotive industry has a broad impact on society and daily living, not just in the economic sense.

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