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Published on July 16, 2007

Time to take responsibility



AKRON (July 16, 2007) — Chinese tire manufacturer Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. Ltd. needs to step up to the plate and help out with the federally ordered recall of some of the tires it manufactured and exported to the U.S.

It may not be required legally to do so, but as the maker of these products, it has a responsibility to get the suspect tires off the nation's highways and ensure public safety.

Technically, Union, N.J.-based Foreign Tire Sales (FTS) Inc., as the manufacturer of record, is liable by law to undertake the recall of an estimated 450,000 Hangzhou Zhongce-made radial light truck tires that allegedly may have a defect that makes them unsafe.

But FTS didn't manufacture the tires, Hangzhou Zhongce did.

What's more, FTS, a small U.S. importer, claims it can't afford to carry out the entire recall and likely would go bankrupt trying to do so, leaving the recall's completion in doubt.

The company estimates the cost of the recall at between $50 million and $80 million, but it says it has funds sufficient to cover only about 10 to 15 percent of the cost.

Hangzhou Zhongce—among the world's 20 largest tire makers with a reported $1 billion in sales in 2006—should have the financial ability to ensure a successful recall.

This is not to say the tires in question are defective. At this point the issue is still unresolved.

But there was enough concern about them that FTS notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that some of the tires allegedly were made without gum strips or with insufficient gum strips between the belts to prevent belt separation. That's when NHTSA gave the recall order, and that's why Hangzhou Zhongce should help get the tires off the road.

Marketing products in North America, whether domestically produced or imported, comes with a serious responsibility: protecting the consumers who use those products.

Taking an active stance with this recall also will stem flagging consumer and tire dealer confidence in Hangzhou Zhongce's products and with Chinese-made tires in general. If the company wants to continue growing its sales in North America, this would be a smart move.

Hangzhou Zhongce can take a cue on this from how other tire manufacturers have handled their own recalls.

Bridgestone/Firestone (BFS), for example, moved decisively and responsibly in 2000 after learning of tread separations and rollover accidents involving some of its Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT light truck tires.

Even before determining whether anything was wrong with the tires, the company's executives decided to get them off the nation's roadways, resulting in one of the largest tire recalls in U.S. history.

Many people speculated the company would never recover from that financial burden and ensuing negative publicity. Yes, BFS took quite a beating from the media, lawmakers, consumer protection groups and motorists.

But seven years later, the company has regained its status as one of the preeminent and most profitable tire makers in the world.

BFS chose to “Make it Right” for its consumers—to parrot a phrase from the safety and quality control action plan the company initiated during the recall.

It's now time for Hangzhou Zhongce to do the same.


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