By: Nina Ying Sun
February 14, 2014
Trying to follow the ongoing Aston Martin recall is like watching a James Bond movie. Just as you think you've figured it out, something unexpected happens.
It first appeared to be a classic episode of China failing on quality and production going back to the Western world. Fair enough. Good news for the British injection molders.
Then Shenzhen Kexiang Mould Tool Co. Ltd., who, according to Aston Martin's filing with U.S. regulators, used counterfeit DuPont resin to mold the faulty brake pedal arm, denied having a business relationship with the British car maker. And the alleged supplier of the counterfeit plastic material has a name and address that can't be found.
Perhaps Kexiang, being a subcontractor, wasn't even aware of the brag-worthy fact it was actually making a pretty critical component for the luxury sports car brand. Just a silly misunderstanding, I thought.
Not so simple. The Chinese media, led by the state-owned People's Daily, immediately followed up with investigative reports and commentaries that made Kexiang look like a scapegoat and victim and Fast Forwarding Tooling (HK) Ltd., the supposedly Tier 2 supplier, a tiny brokerage firm.
On Feb. 11, Aston Martin China issued a written statement, adding new twists and turns to the story. Apparently, Fast Forwarding only started contracting the molding job to Kexiang in April 2013. And out of the 17,590 vehicles made since 2007 that are being recalled, only 765 of them, made between Oct. 4, 2013, and Dec. 31, 2013, contained parts made of counterfeit plastic material.
Another important clarification Aston Martin made was that it believes Kexiang was genuinely unaware of the counterfeit nature of the material.
The statement, widely cited and posted online in its entirety by Chinese media, added fuel to the flame, leading to harsh criticism and calls for apologies from the Chinese side.
A few key pieces are still missing from the puzzle. The Tier 1 supplier, Precision Varionic International Ltd., has declined media requests to comment. Fast Forwarding has remained unreachable.
But, in another sense, we know enough already.
We know, inarguably, Aston Martin in this case failed on lower-level supplier management and quality control.
It doesn't really matter whether the molder was Kexiang. We know the part was made by a shabby factory in China, regardless of its real name or location.
It doesn't really matter who and where the supplier of the plastic material is. We know someone successfully sneaked counterfeit resin into Aston Martin's production network.
And let's face it: None of this is "news" to procurement directors all over the world. We've always known that sourcing from China carries risk — as high as the savings reward can be. We've always known that counterfeiting is rampant in China. We've always known that high quality isn't a particular forte of Chinese products — which is precisely why so many Chinese consumers choose to pay a premium to get Western-made products.
Imagine how the Chinese owners of Aston Martin cars felt when they realized their super-expensive ride uses parts made at a tiny shop in a Chinese village, using Chinese counterfeit material.
Emotions are powerful. They can help sell the most expensive cars. They can also make your car not sell — just ask Japanese carmakers about their experiences in China. The sensations created by the Chinese media in this recall saga can be damaging.
Frankly, I wish Aston Martin (and PVI) had responded sooner and in a more thorough fashion to questions raised by the Chinese. They left too much blank space for interpretation and imagination.
I know they must be working on it.
Meanwhile, I'll spend this weekend pondering how the intricate story is going to develop, and, end.
Sun is assistant managing editor of Plastics News and managing editor of our bilingual Plastics News China website.