Trump’s ‘joke’ about inspections of Japanese cars dropping bowling balls leaves Tokyo perplexed

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A remark by US President Donald Trump that Japan drops bowling balls on US cars during an inspection to exclude them from the market, later described as a joke by the White House, has Tokyo perplexed .

During a fundraising speech in Missouri on Wednesday that was transcribed by The Washington Post on Thursday, Trump criticized Japan for conducting unfair inspections on American cars to drive them away from the Japanese market.

“It’s called the bowling ball test, do you know what it is?” This is where they pick up a bowling ball 20 feet in the air and drop it on the hood of the car. And if the hood dent, then the car is not eligible. Well, guess what, the roof got a little dented, and they said, no, this car doesn’t qualify. It’s horrible, the way we’re treated. It’s horrible,” he reportedly said.

In Tokyo on Friday, an official with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism responsible for inspecting vehicles said the president’s remarks were based on “a simple misunderstanding”, saying that Japan does not had never performed such tests.

The official speculated that Trump may be referring to a safety test that uses a spherical object resembling a human head to check for damage to people — not vehicles — when cars hit pedestrians.

The test, which is conducted in Japan, Europe, Russia and other countries under a global standard, assesses whether a car bumps correctly when it hits an object to reduce damage to pedestrians, not whether it is strong enough to remain intact after a crash, the official said.

“I don’t think we have set higher inspection standards than other countries. I think he totally misunderstood,” the official said.

After Trump’s remarks, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders explained Thursday that the president was “obviously … joking about this particular test,” video footage on CNN’s website showed.

“But it illustrates how creatively some countries are able to keep American products out of their markets,” she said.

Trump has often expressed his displeasure with Japan’s safety and environmental standards for automobiles, saying he treats American automobiles unfairly despite not imposing any tariffs on imported cars.

But the Transport Ministry official said Japan has neither favored nor discriminated against automobiles from a certain country by carrying out additional tests or imposing stricter inspection standards.

“I have never heard of such a test. If we did that, I think our cars would also get dented,” Honda Motor Co. spokesman Hajime Kaneko said with a chuckle.

“Personally, I think our customers in Japan are more concerned about the quality of their vehicles than customers in other countries. They even carefully check for uneven paint and slight misalignment,” which may have made Japanese inspections seem unfairly strict, he said.

Representatives from Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. declined to comment.

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