Mitsubishi Is Target of Emissions-Cheating Inquiry in Germany

Mitsubishi Is Target of Emissions-Cheating Inquiry in Germany

FRANKFURT — Mitsubishi Motors is under investigation for possibly selling diesel vehicles in Germany that had been programmed to cheat on emissions tests, Frankfurt prosecutors said Tuesday as the police raided offices of the Japanese carmaker.

The investigation is another setback for the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, which has been under severe strain since the arrest of Carlos Ghosn, its former chairman, more than a year ago in Japan.

Another diesel emissions scandal could also weigh on the entire auto industry. Accusations of emissions cheating against Volkswagen, Fiat Chrysler, Daimler and others have hurt the reputations of the traditional carmakers when they are under fierce pressure from Tesla and its emission-free electric cars.

Investigators raided 10 offices in and around Frankfurt, near Munich and in other locations around Germany on Tuesday, the prosecutors said. The searches included two suppliers, which the authorities did not identify.

Continental, which makes electronic components for cars, confirmed that it was one of the suppliers but said it was a witness in the case. The police searched its offices in Frankfurt, Hanover and Regensburg, a city in Bavaria, Continental said in a statement. The company said it was cooperating with the authorities.

Mitsubishi confirmed that the authorities inspected the premises of its German distributor as well as research and development facilities in Germany. “Mitsubishi Motors will of course collaborate and contribute to this investigation,” the company said in a statement.

Mitsubishi is a minor player in the European car market. It sold about 148,000 vehicles in all of Europe last year, a market share of less than 1 percent. Nissan is Mitsubishi’s largest shareholder, with a 34 percent stake.

The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, which Mitsubishi joined in 2016, has been struggling to overcome deep divisions exposed by the arrest of Mr. Ghosn in late 2018 on charges of financial misconduct. While awaiting trial, Mr. Ghosn, the architect of the alliance, slipped out of Japan in late December despite intense police surveillance and is now in Lebanon.

At a news conference in Beirut this month, Mr. Ghosn said the alliance was doomed without his leadership. “Frankly, there is no more alliance,” he said.

Leaders of Renault and Nissan have said they are working to save the alliance. Despite mistrust and ill will between the French and the Japanese, they probably need each other to survive an upheaval in the industry caused by a transition to electric cars with autonomous driving technology.

Frankfurt prosecutors said the investigation was focused on Mitsubishi cars with a 1.6-liter or 2.2-liter, four-cylinder diesel engine. The company may have programmed vehicles to meet emissions standards during official tests but not during normal driving, the prosecutors said in a statement.

The prosecutors asked people who have bought Mitsubishi diesel vehicles since 2014 to come forward as witnesses, suggesting that the investigation is focused on cars from that model year and later.

Cars with “defeat devices” allowing them to fool regulators could be banned from roads, at least until the illegal software is removed.

Diesel was once the most popular engine option for European car buyers because of its superior fuel economy. But diesel sales have been in a free fall since Volkswagen admitted in 2015 that it had sold 11 million vehicles worldwide with emissions cheating software.

The scandal called attention to the harmful effects of diesel emissions and led cities including London, Paris, Brussels, Barcelona in Spain and Stuttgart in Germany to ban older diesel vehicles from urban centers.

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