Nissan mulls legal challenge to South Korea’s emissions ruling
Nissan Motor is considering taking South Korea’s Ministry of Environment to court to demand retraction of allegations that the automaker breached regulations by adding a device that “arbitrarily” worsens a diesel vehicle’s emissions control performance.
The ministry on Tuesday ordered the Japanese automaker’s local unit to recall 824 Qashqai crossover sport utility vehicles sold in the country, in addition to paying a 340 million won ($294,000) fine. It also lodged criminal complaints against the unit and its president for violating environmental regulations. Nissan said it will carry out the recall but continues to deny any wrongdoing.
The Qashqai’s emissions reduction device shuts off when the engine’s air intake temperature reaches 35 C, resulting in higher nitrogen oxide emissions. The ministry decided this is an arbitrary measure that boosts the level of emissions under normal driving conditions, and thus violates the country’s regulations.
Nissan argues that the setting is designed to prevent the engine from overheating, and it had explained this in documents submitted to South Korean authorities. Furthermore, it points out that the addition of such a safety measure is permitted under South Korean law.
“We have complied with all existing regulations and did not use an ‘unjustified arbitrary setup’ or an illegal defeat device in the vehicle,” the automaker said in a Tuesday statement.
The ministry charges that the Qashqai’s engine intake temperature reached 35 C after about 30 minutes of driving, at which point the emissions reduction device turned off. Nissan maintains that the device continued to operate even after 70 minutes during its own testing, but the ministry rejects this claim.
The Qashqai is produced in the U.K. and sold in Europe and South Korea. Nissan has told South Korean authorities that it is prepared to make the necessary updates to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions under regular driving conditions by raising the shut-off threshold to 45 C. It will make similar improvements to newly produced cars for the European market.
Consumers are keeping a closer eye on automakers after Volkswagen and Mitsubishi Motors became embroiled in emissions and fuel efficiency scandals, respectively. Nissan sells about 6,000 cars a year in South Korea, which is just 0.1% of the company’s global total. But the scandal could damage its image and sales around the world.
“We don’t want to fight the authorities, but we can’t accept them saying we acted illegally,” a Nissan executive said. “We will continue asserting our position, including through legal action.”