At the recent motor show in Frankfurt, Germany, the world got to see a serious move by the Chinese to establish a distribution system to sell Chinese cars in Europe.
However, one Belgian car dealer already has stopped importing Chinese cars after seeing the results of a crash test of a Chinese-made vehicle. The results were scary.
Folks in the U.S. also have seen quality issues with Chinese products. There have been many recalls, particularly by the toy giant Mattel Inc., because of problems with Chinese products, such as the use of lead-based paints. Selling defective toys was only one of the many dangerous problems con¬fronting retailers that use Chinese manufacturing.
When the Japanese entered Western markets decades ago, many of their products, whether electronic or automotive, were substandard. But Japanese manufacturers were committed to continuous improvement. They knew that they had to improve the quality of their products in order to market them around the world.
The question is whether the Chinese have the same commitment.
They have been trying to downplay having manufactured shoddy and dangerous toys. Their public position is that the Western nations are trying to make those recalls into a much larger problem than really exists.
Before any Chinese cars or sport-utility vehicles could enter North America, the vehicles would have to undergo stringent testing for safety and automotive emissions. That would not include testing for quality or reliability, however.
Hopefully, the European nations will subject the Chinese cars and trucks to the same testing procedures.
What is far more worrisome is the potential for Chinese exports to other nations that do not have rigorous testing standards. The Chinese could be exporting potentially dangerous vehicles to nations that welcome cheap transportation without regard to the potential dangers.
All too often in the rush to establish distribution systems around the world, there is a temptation to start exporting before a country has established a world-class vehicle because exports bring in an enormous amount of currency.
The U.S. has been a guinea pig for unsafe Chinese toys. Let's hope that this lesson makes all countries that import Chinese products vigilant about the quality, reliability and, most important, the safety of those products.
Keith Crain is chairman of Crain Communications Inc., parent company of Tire Business. This column appeared in Automotive News, where Mr. Crain is publisher and editor-in-chief.