Aston Martin – China hits back, the mystery of their recall deepens

Aston Martin announced a couple of weeks ago that they were recalling most of its cars built since 2007. To be precise, “all left hand drive cars built between 11 November 2007 and 31 December 2013 and right hand drive cars built between May 2012 and 31 December 2013”.

That follows the discovery that a Chinese sub-supplier was allegedly using counterfeit plastic material in part of the accelerator pedal. “There are fears the pedal arm may break although there have been no reports of any accidents”, the firm said.

A spokesman for the firm said that manufacturing would now be brought back into the UK with an alternative UK supplier being used. So that all seemed like a good news story for UK industry and economy, and another confirmation that you can’t really trust these Chinese firms, dodgy quality standards, and all that sort of thing.

But on Friday matters got more interesting and less clear cut. The Chinese state media hit back at the allegations, accusing Aston Martin of playing to stereotypes of low-quality ‘made in China’ prejudices. And that is a concern for the sales side of the business, given the growth potential for high-end cars in the burgeoning Chinese economy.

Investigations also threw Aston Martin’s explanation of the supply chain into some doubt. Here is Reuters:

According to documents filed with a U.S. regulator, Aston Martin found that Shenzhen Kexiang Mould Tool Co Ltd, a southern China-based subcontractor that moulds the affected accelerator pedal arms, was using counterfeit DuPont (DD.N) plastic material. The documents said Kexiang was a third-tier supplier contracted to mould accelerator pedal arms by a Hong Kong company, Fast Forward Tooling, which in turn was contracted by a manufacturer based in Britain.

But a Kexiang manager denied (to Reuters) any involvement with the carmaker. And:

“A visit by a Reuters reporter to the Hong Kong address for Fast Forward cited in Aston Martin's document found it to be that of a small legal and secretarial firm where the company had registered its business but had no actual presence”.

Interesting. We suspect there is more to emerge from this. And of course, this illustrates yet again the complexity of global supply chains, the inherent risks in that complexity, and the need to understand just who your suppliers really are. And, in many cases, who their suppliers are. And perhaps who their suppliers are. Even a third tier supplier can cause significant problems, whether in reputational damage or operational costs.

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