David Sedgwick
David Sedgwick
Special correspondent

Aston Martin learns the scary meaning of 'China price'

Aston Martin has been forced to recall nearly all of the vehicles it has produced since 2007.

Photo credit: Reuters
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For any automaker or supplier doing business in China, Aston Martin's decision to recall 17,590 sports cars built since 2007 has got to be a nightmare.

To recap briefly, the British automaker discovered last May that the accelerator pedal arm in its cars was made of inferior counterfeit plastic and was subject to breakage.

Twenty-two of those pedal arms failed, according to media reports, although Aston Martin says it has not received any reports of accidents or injuries.

But the root problem -- substandard material that was substituted for DuPont's PA6 plastic compound -- should be deeply unsettling. In a Jan. 15 letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Aston Martin said a Tier 3 supplier received this counterfeit material in bags that carried the DuPont label.

Let's consider what Aston Martin and DuPont had to do to make sure no more counterfeit material was used. According to Aston Martin, a Chinese company called Synthetic Plastic Raw Material Co. supplied the counterfeit plastic compound.

So Aston Martin and DuPont sent representatives to Shenzhen Kexiang Mould Tool Co., maker of the accelerator pedal arms, to verify that each bag of plastic used was really made by DuPont.

One industry observer told me that bags of plastic compound labeled DuPont PA6 -- but with no bill of lading -- are easily available online.

Until now, counterfeit parts appeared to be the province of aftermarket suppliers that produced knockoffs of oil filters, spark plugs, tires and the like. But if your original-equipment supplier shaves a few pennies off the cost of your widgets by using inferior raw materials, you've got problems.

Big problems.

Last week, an Aston Martin spokeswoman confirmed that the automaker planned to transfer production of accelerator pedal arms to the UK "as soon as possible."

No kidding. I suspect a number of European purchasing execs are booking flights to northern Africa, eastern Europe and elsewhere and saying to hell with the much-ballyhooed "China price."

You can reach David Sedgwick at dsedgwick@crain.com.

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