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Published on July 31, 2007

Product problems won't curtail China's growth



DETROIT (July 30, 2007) — After problems with imported tires, toys, toothpaste, pet food and seafood, China has become synonymous in the U.S. with poor quality.

But those incidents won't slow the drive to source more automotive components from China. And Chinese auto makers already have to clear high quality hurdles before they sell cars in the U.S.

The problems with the flawed products, such as leaving out the gum strip between tire belts—an omission that can cause the belts to separate—or adding to toothpaste the chemical diethylene glycol, used in antifreeze, could have been detected had Chinese or U.S. inspectors been more thorough.

In the case of automotive components, Paul Gao, a principal with consultants McKinsey & Co. in Shanghai, points out that vehicle makers monitor their suppliers' products carefully.

Indeed, one reason I've heard for not sourcing a part in China is the length of time it takes to certify local suppliers' quality. So thoroughness is not a problem.

That's not to say this recent flurry of problems with products from China will be forgotten. It's bound to sour some people's opinions of China-made vehicles and parts.

Chinese car makers have realized that meeting U.S. standards is tough and takes time. Engineers at the auto makers have said as much to me.

Still, Chrysler undoubtedly will have to make extra efforts to convince buyers that the cars it will assemble with China's Chery Automobile Co. Ltd. are problem-free and safe.

Any automotive manufacturer that has tried to source parts or build cars in China already knows quality is a problem. That's why they generally have teams dedicated to supplier development and spend many hours and much money on worker training.

Some good may even come out of the situations with bad tires and toothpaste. Companies looking to source from China will be prepared to do even more quality checks to avoid costly surprises.

Alysha Webb is the China bureau chief of Automotive News, a sister publication of Tire Business.


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