Unsafe At Any Sense: Ralph Nader Punks Chinese Auto Parts Makers
Failed four time presidential candidate and god of all ambulance chasers Ralph Nader has found a new enemy: China. The Center for Auto Safety, founded by Ralph Nader with part of the $425K court settlement paid by GM in 1970 for invasion of his privacy, has been researching recalls of Chinese auto parts. Those recalls are now posted on the safety center’s website. The New York Times took the bait, and ran a long story under the headline “Recalls of Chinese Auto Parts Are a Mounting Concern.” If the NYT would have just taken 20 minutes of research, they would have found that they’ve been snowed.
“There are so many automotive products coming in from China that American safety officials can’t keep track of them,” Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, told the Times. Opening salvo, five miles off target. The U.S. Customs Service has a record of every part entering the country. American safety officials are not mandated to keep track of them. Every part of every country may freely roam the U.S. of A.
So, on it’s own, the Center for Auto Safety went to the trouble of tracking down failed Chinese products.
After an exhaustive search, Nader’s Center for Auto Safety found 24 recalls of Chinese products, listed in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) records for the years 2007 and 2008. The 24 incidents involve a total of 1.2m products.
The high numbers were caused by three companies.
Eagle Eyes Traffic Industrial Co., Ltd. imported 404.546 replacement headlight assemblies which “do not contain required amber side reflectors.” Foreign Tire Sales, Inc. became infamous by importing 255k (some say 450k) Chinese tires which were in danger of tread separation. Harbor Freight Tools imported 295k fuses which took too long to blow.
Ditlow said his review convinces him that “too many Chinese companies are unfamiliar with – or don’t care about – safety standards” in the United States, and thus don’t meet them. According to Ditlow, automotive equipment made in China is less likely to comply with safety standards than the same product made in the United States. “The companies in North America know that process,” Ditlow said.
A quick analysis of the NHTSA database shows that Mr. Ditlow doesn’t know what he is talking about.
The NHTSA database lists 76,525 recalls since 1966. From 2007 to date– the period analyzed by the Center for Auto Safety– NHTSA lists 13,482 recalls. The database identifies the manufacturer or importer of the recalled product. It does not identify the country of origin.
The Center for Auto Safety found 24 products on the list made in China. That amounts to 0.18 percent. The NYT also did not find newsworthy that “China” is the only country listed on Nader’s website under “Import Recalls.” The countries of origin of the remaining 13,458 recalls remain unmentioned.
Also overlooked (and under-reported): during the same period, the database lists 419 recalls by Chrysler LLC, 678 recalls by Ford Motor Co, and a whopping 1,410 recalls by General Motors Corp.
The onus for creating a solid understanding of the safety standards sits squarely on the importer. United States federal law puts responsibility for the safety of the product on the American importer. The importer has to specify the factors that bring the product in compliance with U.S. regulations. The importer must verify that the imported part is in full compliance.
It is very easy to import auto parts to the United States and Canada. Some say, much too easy. There is no oversight. No prior verification is required by a governmental agency or authorized testing entity before the vehicle or equipment can be imported, sold or used. If reason develops to believe that a part does not meet standards, then authorities may conduct tests. If a noncompliance is found, a recall can be ordered.
The rest of the world operates on the principles established by the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations, a body of the United Nations. 58 countries, from Azerbaijan to New Zealand, are signatories to a common set of ECE Regulations for type approval of vehicles and components. Other countries, even if not formally participating in the agreement, recognize the ECE Regulations. They either mirror the ECE regulations content in their own national requirements, or permit the use and importation of ECE-approved vehicles or parts.
More than 120 ECE regulations cover most safety-relevant aspects. Each part or vehicle must successfully be tested as part of the type approval. The tests are performed by accredited, independent labs. Manufacturers must be audited. Production must likewise be in strict compliance with the certification. If non-compliant parts are found, the manufacturer– not the importer– can lose the certification.
In most countries that signed the agreement, using a non-certified part or vehicle is illegal. This is one of the reasons why one hears very little noise about Chinese quality from European countries. Prodded by Detroit (and most likely the Association of Ambulance Chasers) the U.S.A. refused to join the United Nations body.
And that’s the truth.
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