SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Aston Martin has become the latest global company to feel the ire of China’s state media, facing accusations that the luxury carmaker invoked a stereotype of low-quality ‘Made in China’ manufacturing in a sweeping recall to mask its own shortcomings.
The backlash follows a February 5 decision by the British firm to recall over 17,000 sports cars, most of the vehicles it has produced since late 2007. Aston Martin, controlled by Kuwaiti and private equity investors, said it had discovered a Chinese sub-supplier was using counterfeit material in its accelerator pedal arms.
Critical coverage of international companies over pricing, safety and business practices in China has become more commonplace, sometimes affecting sales there.
Big names like Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N), Yum Brands Inc (YUM.N) and Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE) have all attracted criticism. In the case of Yum Brands, operator of KFC and Pizza Hut fast food restaurants, negative coverage over a food safety scandal deterred customers, hitting sales hard.
Like other makers of high-end vehicles, the maker of exotic sports cars with price tags running into hundreds of thousands of dollars has pinpointed wealthy customers in China, the world’s biggest auto market, as a potential source of future growth. According to consultancy Automotive Foresight (Shanghai) Co, Aston Martin sold 272 cars in China in 2013, nearly triple the 102 it sold in 2012.
The official Xinhua news agency on Friday joined other local media in criticizing Aston Martin, whose cars have been featured in James Bond spy movies, saying it failed to recognize mismanagement of its own supply chain.
“Aston Martin’s latest recall again passed the buck for poor quality of products, but this time ‘Made in China’ is just the scapegoat of the glorious carmaker,” Xinhua said in a report headlined, “Aston Martin plays ‘Made in China’ blame game”.
“Higher levels of technology and quality are the ultimate solution for the unjust stereotype of ‘Made in China’ as cheap and copycat,” Xinhua said.
Officials at Aston Martin in Britain could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Aston Martin recall, involving 17,590 cars, highlights the challenges global carmakers face in securing parts thousands of miles away in China.
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.
In a report published earlier in the week, the official People’s Daily quoted a Kexiang manager, Zhang Zhiang, as saying his company was established only in August 2010 and its outdated equipment and limited workspace did not allow it to take large orders from carmakers like Aston Martin.
People’s Daily said it was unable to reach officials at Fast Forward’s registered addresses, and a Chinese supplier that Aston Martin said provided the plastic material to Kexiang did not have a business registry.
“The company’s (Aston Martin’s) management has unavoidable responsibility for the problem,” the newspaper said.
When contacted by Reuters earlier this month, another Kexiang manager Zhang Ronghui said he was aware of the recall of Aston Martin parts, but denied any direct involvement with the British carmaker.
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.
Reporting by Kazunori Takada; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell