February 13, 2014
Aston Martin?s sweeping recall of its high-end sports cars last week raises larger questions about the risk to global automakers of sourcing key parts thousands of miles away in China without implementing adequate quality control measures.
Executives from several major foreign automakers said they either shun Chinese-owned suppliers or help them establish sound production processes and train workers to avoid quality problems.
And some traders in one of China?s largest plastics supply hubs told a Reuters reporter during a recent visit that counterfeit plastic material of the kind found in an accelerator pedal supplied to Aston Martin was widespread as manufacturers face increasing cost pressures.
The China Association of Automotive Manufacturers, which represents many of the country?s vehicle and parts makers, declined to comment.
The British maker of the exotic sports cars featured in a string of James Bond spy movies was forced last week to recall a total of 17,590 cars globally, most of which were built since 2007. It discovered Chinese subcontractors were using counterfeit plastic material in parts supplied to Aston Martin.
A spokeswoman for Aston Martin, controlled by Kuwaiti and private equity investors, said Feb. 7 that the Chinese subsuppliers of accelerator pedal arms are being replaced ?as soon as possible? by a U.K.-based supplier.
The source of Aston Martin?s recall ?is precisely why we don?t procure much in China? especially from Chinese-owned component makers, a China-based senior Toyota Motor Co. executive told Reuters. He declined to be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue.
Toyota, which has extensive manufacturing activities in China, buys most critical components from China-based units of Japanese and other global parts producers. In some cases it brings in materials directly from Japan, the Toyota official said.
Germany?s Daimler AG, which holds a minority stake in Aston Martin and operates several joint ventures with Renault-Nissan, said it was not affected by the Aston Martin recall and does not share the British company?s Chinese suppliers of accelerator pedals.
Jaguar Land Rover Ltd. (JLR) in the United Kingdom said it had ?never used? Aston Martin?s Chinese suppliers. Now owned by India?s Tata Group, JLR was part of Ford Motor Co.?s Premier Automotive Group, along with Aston Martin. Ford sold Aston Martin in 2007 and JLR in 2008.
According to documents filed with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Aston Martin found that Shenzhen Kexiang Mold Tool Co. Ltd., a subcontractor that moulds the affected accelerator pedal arms, was using counterfeit DuPont plastic material. The material was supplied by another southern China-based firm, Synthetic Plastic Raw Material Co. Ltd. of Dongguan, according to the documents.
Kexiang was contracted to mold accelerator pedal arms by a Hong Kong company, Fast Forward Tooling, which in turn was contracted by a U.K.-based manufacturer, Precision Varionic International (PVI), according to Aston Martin documents filed with NHTSA.
Zhang Ronghui, a Kexiang factory manager absent from the plant site but contacted by Reuters on his mobile phone, said he was aware of the recall of Aston Martin parts, but denied any direct involvement with the British carmaker. ?We?re fine. We don?t make things [for Aston Martin]. Another company does it,? said Zhang, who declined a request for a meeting.
Aston Martin spokeswoman Sarah Calam said the Chinese subsuppliers Fast Forward and Kexiang are being replaced, with production shifting to the United Kingdom. The automaker will continue working with Precision Varionic.
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