U.S. regulator asked carmakers to disclose any Kobe Steel safety issues - letter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. auto regulator asked 29 carmakers to disclose if the safety of any of their vehicles or engines containing products supplied by Kobe Steel Ltd could be affected by data cheating, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: The Kobe Steel (Kobelco) headquarters building is seen in Kobe, western Japan October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/File Photo

Japan’s third-largest steelmaker, which supplies the makers of cars, planes, trains and other industrial products across the world, said in October that about 500 of its customers had received products with falsified specifications, in one of the country’s biggest industrial scandals.

In a previously undisclosed special order dated Nov. 8, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asked a range of companies including General Motors Co, Toyota Motor Corp, Volkswagen AG VOWG_p.DE and Tesla Inc to file reports to the agency.

It also asked for details about materials testing and documents from Kobe Steel about products not meeting specifications. Companies were given until Dec. 28, but some were given extensions, according to a person briefed on the matter.

Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade association representing major automakers, said automakers “are cooperating with the agency in responding to the special order.”

Other companies on the list, including Mitsubishi Motors Corp, Navistar International Corp, Daimler AG, Harley-Davidson Inc and Forest River Inc, a recreational vehicle manufacturer owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc did not immediately comment or declined to comment.

Toyota, Honda Motor Co and Nissan Motor Co said in Japan in October they had found no safety issues with Kobe products.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King declined to comment on the special order.

A Kobe Steel spokesman in Japan did not respond to a request for comment.

Outside investigators appointed by Kobe to look into the malpractice found that senior officials in the company’s copper and aluminum business knew of some of the cheating.

The company said in December that investigation would be completed by around the end of February, two months later than expected.

Kobe has also said it is the subject of a separate U.S. Justice Department inquiry.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Susan Thomas